I have to admit that Palm Sunday has been one of my favorite liturgical Sundays of the Christian calendar. I am still not completely clear what that is about. But I am pretty sure it is rooted in this image of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, or as many translations put it, an ass. But I want to be careful about the use of my language lest some Presbyterian purity police threaten to, well, you know, kick my you know what.
Joking aside, I do know that my love of this story really has to do with this particular image of Jesus. I know it has been preached a million times before. A real messiah would have ridden in to Jerusalem perched high on a chariot clad in colorful armor, guarded by over-sized body guards and with miles of red carpet laid out before him. A real messiah would have arrived in the first century’s version of a bulletproof black limousine. This Jesus shows up instead in a rusty old 1963 VW bug.
The story blares out a thunderously simple, down-to-earth message of divine humility.
I remember talking to a woman nearly twenty years ago who was ready to read me the riot act about why she didn’t go to church. She said, “Look, I grew up in the church and when I came back from college my church told me to quit asking so many questions.” I nodded my head and said, “Yeah…the church hasn’t been very good at honoring people’s questions.” The woman paused for a moment and then said, “Seriously, you think that? I’d go to a church that was willing to admit they haven’t always gotten it right. I am not looking for perfect. Just for real.”
I wonder sometimes if we in the church feel like we need to present a polished image of ourselves. We need to pretend that have the answers even if we don’t know the questions. We need to wear our Sunday best even if we have been at our Saturday night worst. We need to present a chariot-riding Jesus afraid that an ass-riding messiah won’t be good enough to get people in the doors.
But if my conversation with this woman is representative at all of our deeper human needs I wonder if the world is less interested in a polished and bulletproof messiah and more interested in a humble, vulnerable and down-to-earth Jesus.
I wonder if we should concentrate less on being perfect and more on being real.
I wonder if the better translation really is, “He rode in on an ass!”