Meditation on Matthew 21:1-11
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church
142 N. Fourth St., Coshocton, OH 43812
April 5, 2020
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him 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!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I will tell you about me. Promise not to laugh, OK? First, I fell in love with reading books and thought I wanted to be a writer. Later, I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. Have you read that book or watched the TV series? Being an animal lover, I decided I was going to be a rural vet like Dr. Herriot. The funny thing about my goal, well, there’s lots of funny things about it, since I am scared of blood and big dogs, let alone farm animals, but the funniest thing to me now, looking back, was that Herriot’s story about rural veterinary medicine in the 1940s was anything but glamorous or remotely comfortable. What was I thinking???
Herriot begins All Creatures by sharing the story of his helping a cow with a difficult birth. This was 7 months after the Scottish vet arrived to practice fresh out of school in the rural Yorkshire dales.
“They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back,” he writes. “I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow, my feet scrabbling for a toe hold between the stones….Snow mingled with the dirt and the dried blood on my body. I could see nothing outside the circle of flickering light thrown by the smoky oil lamp which the farmer held over me. No, there wasn’t a word in the books about searching for your ropes and instruments in the shadows; about trying to keep clean in a half bucket of tepid water; about the cobbles digging into your chest. Nor about the slow numbing of the arms, the creeping paralysis of the muscles as the fingers tried to work against the cow’s expulsive efforts. There was no mention anywhere of the gradual exhaustion, the feeling of futility and the little far-off voice of panic.
“My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book.. A cow standing in the middle of the gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling. There was no dirt or blood or sweat anywhere.
“That man in the picture had just finished an excellent lunch and had moved next door to do a bit of calving just for the sheer pleasure of it, as a kind of dessert. He hadn’t crawled shivering from his bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and bumped over 12 miles of frozen snow, staring sleepily ahead till the lonely farm showed in his headlights. He hadn’t climbed half a mile of white fell-side to the doorless barn where his patient lay.
…. “There is always a time at a bad calving when you begin to wonder if you will ever win the battle. I had reached this stage.”
Well, I never became a rural vet, of course, but I never lost the desire to reach out to people where they live, hear their stories, walk in their shoes, and bring help and healing, of the spiritual kind. That’s my calling as a rural minister here in Coshocton. And these past few weeks, after we closed the doors of the church for health and safety, and I had to learn to minister outside the box, so to speak, I have had James Herriot moments, when I think, “Seminary didn’t prepare me for ministry in a pandemic. Forget Calvin, Barth and Luther! What’s going on here?!”
No, it isn’t helping birth a calf in the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, in the 1940s in the Yorkshire dales. But the feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and uncertainty are pretty close as I take, sometimes, faltering steps forward to do God’s work in this strange new world.
But I also know that the Spirit is still working in me, using all things for good. The Lord is teaching and growing us as His children. Amen? He is strengthening our faith and making us realize what’s really important. It’s not the building, is it? It’s not the kind of music we sing. Ministry is about communicating the gospel so that people can understand, accept, and receive it. For God came down to us as one of us—in the form of fragile humanity—to show us the way back to Him.
And ministry isn’t just about communicating with words during a worship service on Sunday; it’s about what we do the rest of the week, every day, how we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ, our gentle, humble Savior.
This Palm Sunday reading in the gospel of Matthew is often labeled in our Bibles as “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.” Is that what it says in your Bible? Unfortunately, the editors missed the point of this passage. This isn’t a triumphal parade or a protest march. This is our humble King of Kings, so unlike any king or ruler or leader in our world today or of any age. So many things reveal his humility—his silence during this journey, with only his followers singing his praises. Hosanna means, “Save us!” It’s both a cry of need and the joyful announcement that the Savior has come, the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God.
His followers have been walking with him a long time. They aren’t well dressed, and they aren’t used to being heard. They are those who have been healed from sickness and disease, those formerly possessed by demons. They are those whom Jesus fed and taught the good news of the Kingdom—the poor, marginalized, despised and outcast. The ones Jesus said are “blessed.” They aren’t waving some exotic form of plant—it’s exotic to us who don’t live in a tropical climate. Palm branches just happened to line the road where the people walked. But Matthew doesn’t say they are palm branches—and neither do Mark or Luke. They could have been other trees native to the area. It’s kind of like us waving branches from our maple, oak, and pine trees or forsythia, rhododendron or flowering quince.
His mode of transportation further demonstrates his attitude and purpose in coming to Jerusalem. This is one of the miracles of the day that we could miss in a cursory reading—that Jesus, who must have been an animal lover, a sort of donkey whisperer—was able to ride a colt that had never been ridden before. To an audience living in an ancient, agricultural society, this would have been a BIG deal. Nobody, especially a king or ruler—anyone who didn’t want to make a fool of himself—rides an unridden colt.
This is to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Friends, we have reached a critical point in our Lenten journey. We have begun Holy Week. There’s no turning back from this path. We are on the road to the cross with Jesus, where he will show his love and obedience to God by humbly giving his life, paying the price for our sins. He is riding on with no other purpose except to suffer and die for the sake of the world. But the story doesn’t end at the cross, either. We are also Easter people, people of hope amidst darkness and despair, who will rise up from ashes and death to live new and abundant lives with Him.
You may feel frustrated or afraid during these anxious, uncertain times. You might feel angry. You may feel sad and grieve. It’s OK to feel all these things. It’s OK to feel everything and to share your feelings with others. It’s OK just to be human, as God made us. For the Lord created us so that we would be in fellowship with Him and depend on Him and not ourselves. As Psalm 46 encourages us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
We might not be able to see one another right now, face to face, or give each other a hug, but we are growing in love and grace. We are learning to expect less than perfection of ourselves and our situations in life. We are learning gratitude for all God’s blessings—too many to name—our families, friends and neighbors and, yes, our Church. We are moving closer to one another because of this crisis and we are drawing nearer to God. Our hearts are changing. We are becoming more like His Son!
United by the Spirit, together in faith, we admit our need for our humble healer—in good times and hard times like these. We confess our need for our gentle Redeemer, who chose not a horse, but a donkey, the foal of a donkey, to ride to Jerusalem and bring salvation to the world.
Together we cry, believing God will deliver us, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord!”
Let us pray.
Holy One, Hosanna! Save us, Lord! We thank you for your Son, whom you sent to redeem us from our sins and lead us back to you. Our King of Kings shows us how to be humble and gentle, riding the colt of a donkey, as the prophet said, to bring salvation to Zion and all the world. He didn’t blast a trumpet or arrive in triumph. That wasn’t your plan. And his followers were not the wealthy and elite of his society, but the outcast and marginalized, who had experienced God’s grace, compassion and healing and recognized that their Messiah had come. Lord, we thank you that we can count on you to be our refuge in anxious, uncertain times like these. And that while everything around us seems to be changing, you are always the same Lord. Your steadfast love never ceases and we can rely on you and your mercies that are new every morning. Draw us nearer to you and help us to become more faithful, gentle, and humble, like your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.