April 5, 2020
Mathew 21:1-11; 26:6-30
Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.
Upper St. Croix Parish UMC
“With the Two Palms, We Have”
Today is Palm Sunday, when is the Sunday before Easter. We customarily celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which occurred on Sunday of Passion Week. Palm Sunday, as you may guess, is from that the people used the palm branches to welcome and praise Jesus, who enters into Jerusalem. Palm tree symbolized ‘righteousness,’ ‘beauty,’ and ‘victory.’ Therefore, this entry procession of Jesus paraded and celebrated the commitments of God’s kingdom as the symbols of righteousness and victory.
On the other hand, we may think of our palms, which are the soft centers of our hands. Both palm leaves and palms of people would be used to honor Jesus, with the waving of branches and the clapping of hands. Using palms of our hands to worship God might be the symbol of commitment to the love of God and the love of neighbors.
There is a saying in Korea that “we are trying to cover the sky with our palms.” When someone tries to hide the apparent facts, you may say it in a way. Besides, there is a saying, “flipping the palm.” It is a word that indicates those who change their mind quickly. I want to talk about people who tried to cover the sky with their palms and people who are changeable their minds.
At that time, the Jewish high priests and Pharisees refused to accept many of the miracles Jesus offered. They tried to cover the sky with their palms responding to the fact that Lazarus, who had apparently died and then was alive. They would have even wanted to conceal the fact that Lazarus, who had risen from the grave by Jesus. So, the high priests and Pharisees tried to arrest Jesus as soon as possible because the news that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead spread throughout Jerusalem, and then many started to believe in Jesus.
In the city of Jerusalem, there were many people for the Holiday Passover. Among them, there were two kinds of people: One was those who used palms to praise Jesus; the other was those who tried to cover the sky with their palms, which rejected Jesus. A large crowd came out to see Jesus after hearing that Jesus would enter Jerusalem. They held palm branches in their hands.
“A huge crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him [Jesus] and that followed were shouting, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven! When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil”
The action of the crowd was for the parade when an important figure such as a king, emperor, governor, or general entered a city at that time. The most famous of such entry occasions was “the triumph” in Rome that celebrated to return and military victories of a triumphant general in a chariot or a warhorse. Such entry processions parade and celebrated the values and social structures of the ruling class.
However, Jesus entered into Jerusalem not on a chariot but on a lowly beast of burden. And, he was not on a warhorse as a symbol of power, but on a colt of a donkey as a symbol of humility. He is the peaceful King of the people of God, not a revolutionary with political interest. Nevertheless, for those who tried to cover the sky with their palms, it was challenged because entry processions used to provide an occasion to intimidate or overpower the non-elite into recognizing commitments to power, status, and wealth as central to their society. That is, it was the privilege of the ruling elite.
Jesus’ entry procession displays the commitments of God’s empire. Jesus does not come to fight for and subdue the city, but to give his life. Instead of the elites’ self-interested domination and exploitation, he enacts God’s purposes of life and wholeness and healing for all people. Since this is not good news for the ruling elite, few recognize him (21:10), and the elite offer no speeches of welcome. Hostility and rejection still dominated even among the crowd who welcomed Jesus with palm branches and waving their palms. However, on the other hand, people had to honor Jesus as their King, wanted to show him what was in their hearts. It was to worship Jesus the Messiah. People sacrificed their clothing to prepare the way of Jesus. For the poor, their outer garments were significant for their lives, but they willingly gave Jesus for a royal welcome.
In the other two stories of today’s scripture, we may also find two kinds of people who used their palms differently. In the Gospel of Matthew 26:6-13 (John 12:1-8), we find that Mary, who uses her palms to anoint Jesus, and touched his feet. There was good news: there were Jesus’ words, a healed leper (Simon), and a man, who had risen from the death (Lazarus), and a holy rite of worshiping Jesus (by Mary). Jesus talked about the good news, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hears, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought them” (Luke 7:22). A man used his palms to eat bread and to steal money at the place of the anointing in Bethany. He was angry at Mary, who anointed Jesus. He could not understand that Jesus was long-awaited Anointed One as the priests and Pharisees did. He could not understand Mary’s holy rite of worshiping the Messiah as if the priests and Pharisees could not understand Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem.
The two kinds of people were at the same place at the same time, but they gained a very different understanding of Jesus. The more surprising reality is that those who welcomed Jesus using their palms, changed their mind within a week. They, who had held palm branches, waving their palms, and welcomed and worshiped Jesus, now hold a stone in their palms. They, who had praise Jesus shouting “hosanna,” and “blessed,” now mutter curse to Jesus. They, who gave their garments to prepare the way of Jesus, now take off Jesus’ rob with the same palms of their hand.
Why did they change their mind like “flipping their palms”? It is because they want to see the glory of the world only, not the glory of God. We should remember that without the glory of the cross, there is no glory of the resurrection. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a part of the climax in his public ministry. After Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was crucified and died, resurrected in three days, and was on the earth for 40 days before going to heaven. It is the heart of the Gospel. We cannot think of the cross and resurrection separately because Jesus completed love for all people on the cross, and confirmed the promise of eternal life with his resurrection.
Most people of all ages live with spiritual thirst. People tend to expect spiritual thirst from the church. However, because the church is helpless and cannot answer anything spiritually, people may come to church and doze and go. So, you may wonder how we could find living water to satisfy our spiritual thirst. That is to use our palms to hold our Lord, and to share the love of God. The church is not a building, but we are the church. Therefore, people tend to expect spiritual thirst from one another, not from the building. Especially in this difficult situation to have social distancing, we have to care for one another as the role of the church using sharing palms of our hands. Our Lord holds us as if God engraved us on the palms of his hands. God says, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16). Let us engrave one another on our palms.
Thanks be to God. Amen!