New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.[a] 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
This coming Sunday two events come into a fortuitous collision: Palm Sunday and the final sermon in a sermon series based upon a careful look at the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 of Matthew. The scriptures above serve as two points of focus for the sermon, and speak to each other as well as to us in enlightening and profound ways. The comments below are some of my initial reflections on this dialogue between the scriptures and my own thoughts. Throughout this whole sermon series, beginning way back in January, I have been challenged by what Jesus says, poked and prodded in many ways, and usually humbled by how far from the path I have strayed over the years. Jesus' words are even more pointed this week. But even in the midst of this probing through the scrap-heap that is my spiritual life, a word of hope arises for me. See what speaks to you:
1. The main overarching theme is be careful who you follow, and upon whose words you build your life.
2. This meshes very neatly with the story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds all went after him, but by the end of the week they called for his crucifixion. The way is indeed narrow, and few travel it. Jesus always says that his way is not ease and comfort. It is not about success, in spite of the perversions of the Gospel that circulate around the U.S. Jesus warns against false prophets who proclaim his name, but profane his words through their actions, and their perversions of his message.
3. We dodge our responsibility and work as followers and disciples if we think all there is to being a Christian is to soak ourselves in the blood of his sacrifice and think that that is enough, that nothing more is required of us. As if all Jesus came to do was to hang upon a cross so that everybody could get into heaven. This is perhaps the most self-centered perversion of the Gospel there is, but it does sum up a lot of the personal piety of many “devout” Christians. Rev. Frederick Ward Kates put it this way: "The purpose of religion -- at any rate, the Christian religion -- is not to get you into heaven, but to get heaven into you." Jesus is not a ticket into the afterlife. He is the blazer of the path into the abundant life here.
4. This way is hard, and not easy to follow. It by definition and necessity changes us. It shakes up our prejudices and preconceptions of what life, God, Jesus and Christianity are all about. The crowd proclaimed Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem, and the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem all worried that the whole world had gone out after him. They needn’t have worried. As Jesus fully understood and predicted, by the end of the week, after they listened to his words and discovered that he was not going to raise up a violent revolution against Rome, they all fell away. Even his closest followers fled, betrayed or denied him.
5. So who are we going to follow? Upon whose words will we build our lives?
6. I suspect that none of us are capable of doing any of this fully. All of us are shaped and seduced by the myths, stories and fantasies of our society: that we can be rich beyond our wildest dreams, that being number one is the highest achievement in life, that we are free to do whatever we want in the world, that everyone else in the world should cater to our wants and desires, that we have endless rights to do or possess this or that with no attendant responsibilities, that the fewer rules, if any, the better, that the earth exists strictly for our own usage and we are free to extract everything we can from it simply because we are human beings, and so on. The teachings of Jesus, as we have begun to discover, cut against this grain. And so we each struggle to fit ourselves in this picture of the crowd who followed after Jesus. I suspect that, like the crowd, most of us drop away from him at some point.
7. This is why Holy Week begins with this story of a palm-waving, exhuberant crowd cheering Jesus on, and ends with them jeering him off to the cross. All our solutions, all our misconceptions of Jesus and his way, everything we do to get off the hook religiously, morally, economically, and politically need to be crucified, destroyed, and laid to rest. We need to be as empty as a tomb before we can receive the new life Jesus talks about, and then step by faltering and stumbling step we can start fo follow in reality, having learned about the cost to us and what will need to change in our lives. We will huddle afraid and dismayed. Troubling and wild reports will come to us. Just like those first disciples, we will need to consider how we have fled from Jesus, how we have denied him, how we have misunderstood him. But we will also need to consider how we have begun to risk, how we have stood at the foot of the cross, how we have received his broken body into our care, and how we long to understand him even as we anoint his body and seal it behind a stone-enclosed tomb. We are all in this Holy Week story some place because this story is not only about what happened in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago, but also about our own modern struggle to follow Jesus.