All Shook Up
Matthew 21:1–17 | Palm Sunday | March 29, 2015
I can now say that I’ve been in a tornado. And I never want that to happen again.
It was nearly four years ago, on a Sunday afternoon. I was taking my usual Sunday nap, when a special report came on the radio. A funnel cloud had been spotted near our house in North Minneapolis. Seconds later I heard that a tornado had touched down in Theodore With Park. I walked out to the front of the house and saw a sickly green sky. The trees were whipping back and forth. I realized it was time to go downstairs.
I ran back to the bedroom, telling Daniel we needed to get downstairs. I grabbed our cat Felix and we went downstairs. I didn’t hear it, but Daniel could hear the tornado passing by. He could hear this mighty sound like “WHooosh!”
After a few moments, the storm stopped. Later on we went outside and saw the devastation. The tornado was an EF 0 or 1 on the enhanced Fujita scale, so it wasn’t super ferocious. But it was strong enough to cause damage to housing and bring trees crashing to the ground. I remember walking around and seeing mighty trees knocked down, pulling up parts of the sidewalk with them. It was not surprising that the power of was out.
That tornado in 2011 wasn’t devastating in that there is was little loss of life or injury. But it took place in a part of town where people lived from paycheck to paycheck. Their rented housing was damaged and so were their cars. For someone like me, the tornado was an inconvenience. For those who are on low-wage jobs or welfare, this tornado was disruptive and jarring.
By the way, the same day was a day of tornado outbreaks in the US. Several hundred miles to the south in Joplin, MO an EF-5 tornado ripped through town devastating the town and killing over 150 people, the most people killed in a tornado since a tornado ripped through a community just north of my hometown of Flint, MI in 1953. For the people of Joplin things were really shook up. Homes were lost. Loved ones were dead. Nothing was ever the same.
Today is Palm Sunday. It is a day in the middle of Lent where we celebrate. We wave our palm branches. It’s not as exciting as Easter. It’s not as depressing as Maundy Thursday and especially Good Friday. It’s a nice day.
But the thing is, Palm Sunday is about as disruptive as a tornado or an earthquake. It changes everything. The old order is knocked down and a new one was being born.
If one word would sum up the story of Palm Sunday it would be eseisthe . This is a greek word. It’s where we get the word seismic or seismology. It’s used in verse 10 as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. This word eseisthe, is used again in Matthew in only two other places: as Jesus died on the cross and on the morning of the resurrection. Jesus was shaking things up.
Jerusalem was already a shaky place. It had been for several generations. This is what a Lutheran pastor said about the history of Jerusalem:
The revolution had started years before. We will briefly examine four dates in this rising political nationalism. It was 63 B.C., and Pompeii was the Roman general who conquered Israel, and now the Israelites found themselves again in slavery after three hundred years of freedom. The Israelites were trying to get rid of the Romans. The Jews hated the Romans for many reasons. The Romans made the Jews eat pork, which a Jew would never do. The Romans were forcing them to worship Caesar, which a Jew would never do…The Jews hated the Romans and there was a revolution going on.
Sometime about the year 6–4 B.C., the great builder, King Herod, who had rebuilt their Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, 150 feet long and 150 feet high, a magnificent temple, turned from being Herod the Builder to Herod the Killer and he ordered all boys two and under to be killed. The killer king didn’t want any baby messiah being born who would grow up to be a political king.
About twelve years later, Zaduk the Pharisee led a revolution in and around Jerusalem and two thousand of his followers were killed. The Romans strung them up; they hung them up on crosses….Would that send a message the Jewish population what the Romans do with political revolutionaries?
And then, on this Passover day, when Jesus came riding into town, there had already been thirty-two political riots … in five years. Yes, as a young man, Jesus with his fellow countrymen had experienced thirty-two riots, six major riots per year for five years. Can you imagine thirty-two riots in Seattle, in Washington D.C., in a mere five years? And according to the Bible story for today, they were on the edge of another riot. That is, the town was ready to blow.
In other words, it was political pandemonium. It was chaos. The town was ready to blow up with any spark.2
Jesus comes in on donkey, a beast of burden. It’s easy to think that the riding on a donkey is about being humble and that’s part of it, but it was not unusual for kings to sit on a donkey as a sign of peace. Jesus wouldn’t ride in on a horse because in those days horses were not the primary mode of transportation as they were in later centuries in Europe and America. Instead, horses were considered instruments of war. If Jesus came in on a horse it was have symbolized a warrior king ready to do battle. Jesus entry into town was communicating two messages, one that he is King, a king greater than Herod, greater than Pilate, greater than any leader past or present. The second message is that Jesus would come in peace, not as a conquering hero, but to come in peace.
If people weren’t shaken up with the parade, they were shook up when Jesus enters the temple, driving out the moneychangers. Jesus was pronouncing judgement on those that practiced a fake piety, not caring for the needs of the neighbor and hiding out in the temple to make it look like they were living right. Jesus enters the temple and shakes things up, revealing that which people sought to be covered up. He then allows the sick, the ones that have been ignored, to come in and be healed.
As we enter into Holy Week, we should ask ourselves; how has Jesus shaken up our lives? As followers of Jesus, our lives should be shaken up, called to live a different way than others and inviting others to meet the one who brings salvation. Palm Sunday should be a day when we are reminded of the God that is seismic, that has changed the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I want to end with a story. In the winter of 1999, I went with several fellow students at Luther Seminary to Hong Kong and mainland China. We spent about two weeks in Hong Kong and a week in Yunnan Province in Southwestern China near Burma. During our week on the mainland, we would visit fellow Christians in the villages near Kunming, the provincial capital. At almost every town we visited, we were welcomed with a meal and our professor who was born to Lutheran missionaries in China would speak…in Mandarin.
One of our last visits was to a village where we had to walk to get to. As we came into town, the residents lined the road to welcome us. It was a makeshift parade to welcome the Christians from the United States. What was interesting about all of the visits is that at every location, we were being chaperoned by people from the government. It was not easy to be a Christian in China, not impossible but challenging. These Christians welcomed us and worshipped with us all under the watchful eyes of the government.
It might have seem when I walked down that road into town that we were the main attraction. But in reality, it was not me that mattered. What mattered were these simple villagers who lived the gospel even in challenging circumstances. People who were shaking things up, but just living their lives in a totalitarian society.
Is your life seismic? Is God shaking up your life? Think about that this week. Thanks be to God. Amen.