(Significant Scriptures: Mark 11:1-11)
One Saturday morning, a father was making pancakes for his two young sons, Billy, age 7, and Bobby, age 5. All of a sudden, while dad was busy cleaning up the stove, Billy and Bobby began arguing loudly over who should get the last pancake. Billy hollered, “You had more pancakes that I did, so this is my pancake.” Bobby hollered back, “You still have some pancake left on your plate and mine is all gone, so I should get the last pancake!” And so the argument went, back and forth, escalating in intensity until the father intervened out of fear that violence would erupt. “Now wait a second here, guys!” said the dad, “What’s going on here?” They both clamoured to make their case, and realizing that this was going nowhere, the dad, trying to be as wise as Solomon, says, “Now boys, both of you are Christians and Jesus calls us to love one another. And loving each other means that we share with each instead of fighting with each other. So, I am going to ask both of you to try to be like Jesus and share with one another.” Billy thinks for a moment and then takes the last pancake, puts it on Bobby’s plate and says, “OK, Bobby, you get to be Jesus first!”
We often see the innate selfishness of human nature in our children, and yet we are usually blind to our own selfishness. And this is true both for individuals and for communities, even communities of faith.
In our Gospel lesson for today, we have Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And Mark’s readers would have recognized that this parade had many of the markings of a celebratory victory parade given to a returning victorious general or warrior-king. The donkey was considered a royal animal and the donkeys or mules of princes or kings were reserved for them alone. No one else was to have ridden on them in the past nor to ever ride on them in the future. And so Jesus enters into Jerusalem on the back of a colt that had never been ridden before. The people lining the parade route take off their outer garments and lay them on the ground before the royal procession to honour this king. They cut leaves off of the surrounding palm trees and lay them on the ground also so the royal steed won’t have to touch the ground with his hooves. They shout words of congratulations and blessing as the victorious king passes by.
And for all the similarities, there are also significant differences. This parade is a mere humble shadow of the extravagant triumphs given to conquering Roman generals who would parade into Rome through streets lined with thousands of cheering spectators. 5,000 of the enemy would have to be killed for a general to merit such a triumph. Jesus killed no one. The general would be followed by cart-load upon cart-load of booty plundered in the campaign. Jesus brought nothing but himself. The gold and the silver treasure would be followed by thousands of prisoners in chains. They were captured in war, but soon they would be sold into slavery or led into the forum where they would die at the hands of wild beasts or gladiators. Jesus enslaved no one. The Roman general would journey to one of the main city temples where sacrifices would be made in recognition of the great victory that was won. Jesus went into the temple in Jerusalem, looked around and left again to journey two miles back to Bethany for the night. There were enough differences that would be obvious to Mark’s Roman audience to show that this was not a normal victory parade.
The people cheering on a victorious warrior-king or general would be doing so with a “me-first” mentality. “Our” army won the battle. “Our” team gets to enjoy the spoils of war. “Our” side has come out on top. We are the champions, and because I am on the winning side, I get to share the in celebration, I get to live in the peace and security brought on by the domination of my team, and I might even get to share in some of the loot. Forget about those who died, forget about those in chains, forget about the cost to the losing side. Even those who knew Jesus and what he was about may have had their own self-interest at heart as they cheered them on from the side. The words of the people that day, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:9b-10a NIV) indicate that they saw him as a Messianic figure. And Jesus is the Messiah, so they were accurate in what they said. But many people in that day had a “me-first” Messiah in mind. Their Messiah would be a victorious warrior-king who would challenge and defeat the occupying army of the Romans and set up his own kingdom in its place. Then everything will be alright when our guy is in the number one position in our land.
But Jesus shows through his actions on this day and the days to come that he and his kingdom are all about ‘what can I give?’ instead of ‘what can I get?’ He comes humbly in a procession of one riding an animal that isn’t even mature. He gives of himself going into a city where he knows he will face opposition, torture and death. The next day he challenges to religious leaders of the day because they have allowed merchants to set up in the Court of the Gentiles. This is the one place in the temple precincts where non-Jews are allowed to pray, and Jesus is filled with righteous anger because commerce and the money it brings has become more important to the temple priests than having God’s house as a house of prayer for all nations. All of Jesus’ own religious leaders, the scribes, Pharisees, the Saduccees, are all lined up against him and they want to trap him in what he says or does so they can have an excuse to get rid of him. Throughout the days ahead they test him on one fine theological point or another. When all these efforts fail, they resort to bribery and perjury. They pay Judas to betray Jesus. They pay two men to tell a false story about him. They arrest him and they beat him and they turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities, insisting that he be executed. The Romans flog Jesus, and then they lead him out of the city where they strip him naked and nail him to a cross to die the most excruciating death human beings could dream up.
Jesus came into Jerusalem with an attitude of “what can I give?” What can I give to this broken and hurting world so that they will know the love their Father in heaven has for them? What can I give to these people who are separated from God because of their sin? What can I give so that they will be reconciled and restored to the God who loves them? What can I give so that all people everywhere will be able to have a new life and a new direction? What can I give so that people can live in the joy and contentment of a life lived with a “What can I give?” attitude instead of a “What can I get?” attitude? What can I give that will bring people out from under the rule of might-makes-right, and he-who-has-the-gold-makes-the-rules, and the-one-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins? What can I give to bring people out of all that and into my kingdom where I rule in love and compassion with comfort and peace? “What can I give?” was the question upon Jesus’ heart. Yet even as he asked the question, he already knew the answer. Himself – his life, all that he was and everything he had – Jesus gave it all for you, for me and for the whole world. Jesus gave himself to give you and me forgiveness for all the moments when we have been selfish instead of selfless. Jesus suffered and died on the cross to put to death the self-centredness that plagues the whole human race. Jesus rose from the dead to give us a new life with him, where we live as his representatives in this world. Directed and empowered by his Spirit, we live as God’s kingdom people, seeking to bring Jesus’ love, forgiveness and hope into the situations we face each day. We seek to make wrong things right. We work to bring reconciliation to broken relationships. We strive to bring healing to broken people. We endeavour to bring God’s shalom peace to our broken society. Because of Jesus and all that he has done and continues to do for us, in relationship with him, we approach life with a “what-can-give” frame of mind.
As a community of faith, you are all beginning a new journey together. The past is behind you and the future lies before you. But what kind of a community will you be? The natural tendency for any group of humans is focus on “us-first.” Even in the Christian church, a “me-first” or “us-first” attitude tends to creep in and it is so destructive whenever it happens. It damages relationships within the church and it destroys our witness to the world. So what kind of a community will the South Surrey mission be? It is costly to follow Jesus and to give to others as he gives to us. In our Gospel lesson for today, we are told that the two disciples Jesus sent “…went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway.” (v.4a) In Jerusalem in those days, the homes of those who were better off would have their entrances open onto a common courtyard. The fact that this house had its entrance directly onto the street indicates that this was the home of a poor person, someone for whom a young donkey would be a very valuable and prized possession. And yet, when asked, the family graciously gives it to the Lord to be used for his purposes. May it be the same for us. May we willingly give the best of what we have for others. May we willingly give all that we have to Jesus and let him use it and us for his purposes. But we cannot do it on our own. Even in giving ourselves for the sake of others, we need Jesus to help us. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church leader whose life ended when he refused to betray his Lord. Asked one last time to disavow his Christ, the old man replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?” He then prayed a short prayer and when he had offered up his his amen and had finished his prayer, the firemen lit the fire.”
Jesus is the one who saves us from our selfishness. Jesus is the one who enables us to be his selfless people in this world. With Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and with the power of the Holy Spirit, may we as individuals and as a community of faith say to ourselves each day in whatever situation we find ourselves in, “Let me be Jesus first.” Amen.
(Preached at South Surrey Mission, White Rock BC on 30 Nov 2008)
 “Polycarp,” Next Bible; Internet; downloaded from: http://net.bible.org/illustration.php?topic=1116; 30 Nov 2008 (Quoted in Closer Walk, July, 1988, p. 22.)