Uniform 03.29.2015: Whom Do We Celebrate?

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Mark 11:1-11

A couple of weeks ago, cities all over the nation celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with parades. People wore varying shades of green, and some dressed like leprechauns. Four-leaf clovers were everywhere. In places like Savannah, Chicago, and Tampa, even the water got into the spirit, with frothy green fountains and rivers running green straight through the cities. The day was full of celebration, with drinks, food, and music.

I didn’t get to attend a parade on St. Patty’s Day. Instead, I was honored to read a couple of books to my daughter’s second-grade class while they munched on cookies. Both books were written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. The first told the history and legends of Saint Patrick himself; the second was a funny Irish folktale called Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato, whose characters spoke in the best Irish accent I could muster.

The kids enjoyed the stories, but I was struck by how little I knew about St. Patrick. Born in Scotland in 387 AD to Roman parents, Patrick was kidnapped at age 14 and taken to Ireland, where he became a slave who herded sheep. Ireland was a pagan nation, but Patrick was undaunted and learned their language and customs. He drew close to God during his years of captivity and finally escaped at age 20. He is considered a saint because he studied for the priesthood, was ordained as a bishop, and answered God’s call to go back to Ireland, where he spent the rest of his life sharing God with the Irish people and building churches in their land. After a life of poverty and service, he died on March 17, 461 AD.

I didn’t know anything about Patrick, and yet I still wore green on his feast day and celebrated with my daughter’s class. How many people at the parades on March 17 knew whom they were honoring?

Likewise, how many people who saw Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a colt truly knew whom they were honoring? They threw down their cloaks as a sign of respect. They waved palm branches and took up the jubilant cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! …Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mk 11:9-10). The excitement was contagious, and they all partied hard that day. But did they really know who Jesus was?

The rest of the story shows us that they didn’t know who he was at all. They expected a military conqueror, but he came as a suffering servant. As we enter this week of Jesus’ last days on earth, may we strive to know him—not for whom we think he should be but for whom he truly is: Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior, and our best example of how to live a godly life.

Sources: Lori Grisham, “Green Water,” USA Today, 16 March 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/03/16/st-patricks-day-rivers-dyed-green/24839351/; “St. Patrick,” Catholic Online, http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=89 (both accessed 20 March 2015).

Discussion

1. What did you do on St. Patrick’s Day? How much did you know about St. Patrick before reading this article? Will knowing more about him change the way you think of his feast day on March 17?
2. Are there other holidays you celebrate without knowing the full meaning behind them (such as All Hallow’s Eve [Halloween] or Christmas, especially when it comes to St. Nicholas)? How can learning about the history of holidays help make these days more meaningful?
3. When you think of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what images come to mind? Where do you think you would have stood? What would you have done?
4. How well do you think the people there that day understood who Jesus was?
5. How well do you understand who Jesus is in your life? Pray that God would reveal Jesus to you more clearly this Holy Week.

Reference Shelf

Like other processions of pilgrims entering Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers sing and chant the words of one of the hallel psalms (Ps 118:25-26), perhaps antiphonally. Mark has carefully adapted the text of the psalm, however. Mark retains the Semitic “Hosanna” rather than translating it into Greek as the Septuagint does, rendering it “Save us now” (Ps 117:25 LXX). Omitting the second half of v. 25, Mark quotes the first part of v. 26, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” and then adds the line, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David” (11:10). The closing line, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” echoes Psalm 148:1. The cry to God, “Hosanna,” “save us,” was later adopted through repeated use as a liturgical formula. Jerome said it was Hebrew for “O Lord, grant salvation!” (Homilies 94). In context, however, the cheering crowd was probably calling out to God, in the presence of this one whom they recognized as the Messiah, to inaugurate the events that would restore the kingdom of their forefather David, an understanding of Jesus and the kingdom that neither Jesus nor Mark shared.

Roman readers might well have contrasted Jesus’ ironically humble entry into Jerusalem with Vespasian’s triumphal procession into Rome after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Josephus describes it at length and in great detail (J.W. 7.123-157). Vespasian was “crowned with laurel and clad in the traditional purple robes.” The senate and chief magistrates awaited him. Josephus declares, “it is impossible adequately to describe the multitude of those spectacles and their magnificence,” but notes in particular the rare works of art, the treasures of silver and gold, the massive moving stages on which the progress of the war was rehearsed for all to see, and the spoils of war, including a copy of the Jewish Law. By contrast Jesus’ procession is pitiful—a motley band of Galileans, fishermen, beggars, and women, hailing a Messiah riding on a donkey and calling out to God for deliverance.

The conclusion to the entrance procession is surprisingly anticlimactic. Nothing more is said of those who went before him and followed him, and the subject changes from the plural to the singular: Jesus entered into Jerusalem, went to the temple and looked around, and then went out to Bethany with the Twelve. Jesus is not greeted at the temple, nor does he do anything except look around. Sensing the uneasiness with which this conclusion follows the joyful entrance procession, Matthew adds a comment that the whole city was abuzz with speculation about Jesus (Matt 21:10), and Matthew and Luke both place the cleansing of the temple immediately after Jesus’ entry into the city.

C. E. B. Cranfield notes that Mark says nothing about a great crowd following Jesus into Jerusalem. It was unusual for a pilgrim to ride into the city, but apparently neither the Romans nor the temple authorities took note of Jesus’ riding into the city on a donkey: “It was a veiled assertion of his Messiahship.” Mark’s understated report that Jesus “looked around” does not say what he saw. It therefore opens a gap in the narrative that will not be filled until the next day when Jesus drives out the merchants and moneychangers. Although Mark does not make note of it, Jesus’ action fulfills the warning in Malachi. The first part of Malachi 3:1 was quoted in reference to John the Baptist: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me” (Mal 3:1a; Mark 1:2). Now the second part has been fulfilled: “and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. . . . and who can stand when he appears?” (Mal 3:1-2).

Reference

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 371-72.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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