Jekyll or Hyde?
One of my favorite moments on our tours to Israel is when we drive to the top of the Mt. of Olives and let the people out to gasp at the view of old Jerusalem below them. After taking a hundred pictures and the obligatory camel ride, we begin our walk down the steep hillside, recreating the trek that Jesus took on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. At the bottom, we come to an grove of olive trees named for the word that means “olive press:” Gethsemane. It is impossible to walk those cobbles, stand in the shade of those gnarled trees and kneel before the stone where tradition says Jesus prayed, without being drawn deeply and poignantly into the last moments of Jesus’ life.
Back to Palm Sunday, though. There is a Jekyll-Hyde quality to that story in a couple of ways. First, with Jesus. For his entire ministry, Jesus took pains to deflect attention, shush up people who wanted to extol him, and downplay his true identity to all but his inner twelve. How many times do we read Jesus say to someone, “Go… and tell no one what I’ve done for you.” Of course, they run off immediately and disobey Jesus, telling everyone they can find about their healing, their deliverance, their touch from the man they believed to be the Messiah. (What else can you do with good news like that?)
But on Palm Sunday, for the first time in his public ministry, Jesus received and even welcomed the adoration of the crowd. By riding in on a donkey, as Zechariah had foretold, Jesus was publicly declaring what so many had suspected or believed or, in the case of the religious leaders, feared: “I AM the Messiah. Ready or not, here I come!” For most of his ministry, Jesus said, “Shhhhhh.” In this start to his final week, Jesus said, “Ta dahhhh!”
But there was also a Jekyll-Hyde quality to the crowds. They roared their approval of Jesus. They waved palm branches, the signs of victory and peace. And they lay their very garments on the filthy ground to be stepped and pooped on by that donkey. “Hosanna!” they cried. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Yet five days later—I have always wondered—how many of those same people were in the crowd that was crying, “Crucify him, crucify him!”?
Are we humans really that fickle? Can we afford to disdain those unfaithful Jerusalemites when we take a close look at our own infidelity? On Sunday, we praise. On Friday, we deny by cheating or cursing or lying. The challenge of our Christian life is to invite the glorious Jesus, now revealed for who he is, to transform our hearts so that my Sunday praise will become my Friday praise. Only God can deliver us from our split personalities. Thank God, He has!
Come and praise the king with us Sunday.