The accounts of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are remarkably similar. They share the same feel.

There is a sense of excitement and expectation. Jesus seems to have orchestrated circumstances to finally reveal his true nature and to announce to the world that he has come to break the yoke of oppression and to rule as king.

In both Matthew and Luke this sense of intensity reached a fever pitch when Jesus actually entered the holy city of Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that upon arriving in Jerusalem,

Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves (Matthew 21:12).

This is an enormously provocative act but it is not the provocative act Jesus’ followers were anticipating. The crowds who had followed Jesus into Jerusalem saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” were expecting Jesus to head straight for the Roman garrison where he would order the Roman legions to leave God’s city and restore self-government to the nation of Israel. The crowds did not get what they had expected.

This sense of unmet expectation is heightened enormously in Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Mark tells us that Jesus,

entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

What an anti-climax. Imagine the let-down experienced by those who had placed their hope in Jesus.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and instead of following the script prescribed for him he visits the temple then leaves the city.   Rome is still in power. Israel is still an occupied territory. The Jews are no more masters of their own destiny than they were twenty-four hours earlier. The party just stops in midstream. There must have been an enormous sense of unfulfilled expectation.

There is another place in Mark’s Gospel that has a similar feel. In chapter 15 Mark recounts the events of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial. Then in chapter 16 Mark says that

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. (16:1,2).

At the tomb where they expected to find Jesus’ dead body, these women discover instead that the stone that had sealed the tomb has been rolled away. As they puzzle over their discovery a young man says to them,

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you (16:6).

This is an extraordinary story. Jesus who died on Good Friday, was buried and lay sealed in a tomb through the whole of Saturday, is alive and will be seen again. Surely, Mark will conclude his Gospel with a glowing account of the wonder and glory of Jesus’ appearances to his friends and the amazing transformation that the resurrection brought in their lives.

But, in the most ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel, the writer does not go on, as we expect, to tell of the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. The oldest, and most authentic versions of Mark’s Gospel, end with 16:8. After hearing the young man’s comforting words, Mark says, these women,

went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (16:8).

It seems this is how Mark intended his Gospel to end – “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” What kind of an anti-climax is that?

Imagine if you had never heard the stories of Jesus and one day you stumbled across a copy of Mark’s Gospel. What would you do with this curious ending? How would you come to grips with this extraordinary tale of a man who seemed so much to reflect the character of God, then was destroyed by powerful forces within his own community and who then apparently just disappeared into obscurity?

Mark wants this curious ending to his Gospel and his account of Palm Sunday to worry away in your mind. He wants you to wrestle with this man who parades into Jerusalem as a king, comes to the temple, looks around like a tourist, and then walks away from the adulation of the crowds. Mark wants us to struggle with this story of a man who was crushed by the most violent forces of the world, and yet seems to have lived again to unleash upon the world the most powerful spiritual force ever known in human civilization.

Jesus did not come to liberate Israel from Roman oppression. He did not even come to perform a conjuring trick with bones. The problem Jesus found when he arrived in Jerusalem was that the temple had become a tomb. The temple of the human spirit was filled with death. The light of the Spirit had gone out. The religious systems of Jesus’ day had lost contact with the power and the life of God. So Jesus came to enter the temple of the human heart and to turn it into the garden of resurrection.

Jesus came to transform your life, to give your life a new centre, to create in you a new heart, a heart of light and hope, a heart that can pulse with the power of love that beats at the centre of the universe.

The question Palm Sunday and Easter pose for us is the question of life. Are we willing to receive Jesus no matter what the circumstances of our lives may be? Are we willing to allow Jesus to transform us where we are in the midst of the mess and confusion of our lives?

Sometimes I get frustrated with the way things are. Sometimes I get irritated by little things that do not go quite as I think they should. My wife has invented an expression she likes to use when she sees that frustrated frown coming over my face. She says, “Yield to life.” Accept the reality of the circumstances of your life as they are. God is present beneath the surface turmoil.

The parades you plan may not turn out as you had hoped. You may come to the end of the day seized with “terror and amazement,” unable to say anything to anyone because you are so filled with fear. “Yield to life.” It is ok. You do not have to fix yourself. You only need to stop and recall God’s presence in the midst of your fear, your anxiety and your uncertainty.

Jesus is the power of love transforming our lives when we yield to his presence. Jesus is the source of life that lives in the temple of our hearts and creates new life where there has been tiredness, disillusion, and hopelessness. Jesus is the power of resurrection able to take all our disappointments and turn them into a source of renewal and strength when we choose to let go of our determination that life should be a certain way and instead, yield to the presence of God. When we yield, God turns the temple of our hearts from a tomb into a garden. New life will be born where once there was frustration and despair. God’s hope will fill our lives, regardless of the circumstances we may face.

***************************

 How do I feel let down by God? What is my response to this sense of frustration and disappointment?

How might my life change if I was able to soften and yield to the circumstances I encounter instead of resisting my life as it unfolds?

                                                   (from: Page, Christopher. Mark’s Gospel: Awakening the Voice Within. Toronto: ABC Publishing, 2005.)

Advertisements