Sixth Sunday of Lent: Jesus Was No Stranger to Being Misunderstood

Jesus Was No Stranger to Being Misunderstood

Written by Molly Lorden

“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
Matthew 21: 6-11

Christian pilgrims carry palm branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. PHOTO: CNS/Debbie Hill

Today, Christians all over the world celebrate Palm Sunday. One week before Easter, we mark the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He entered the city riding on a donkey, as the crowds laid palm branches and cloaks on the road before him and shouted praises. Amidst the commotion, people wondered who he was. Some responded that he was a prophet. Traditionally, Jesus is known as the great prophet, priest and king. While Jesus was a prophet, this is certainly not an all-encompassing understanding of his identity. In this same scene in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is proclaimed as king. Yet, even this is not an adequate depiction. He is so much more.

Jesus was no stranger to being misunderstood. As prophet, Jesus proclaims the good news of grace and salvation to all people. As priest, Jesus carries out the final atoning work for the sins of the world. And, as king, Jesus reigns eternally as our mediator in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. Throughout his earthly life Jesus was clear about these things. He invited his disciples to follow him, teaching them through parables, sermons, and miracles. He even predicted his death three times to his disciples before entering Jerusalem. While the crowds praised him in the streets, shouting “Hosanna!” and calling him blessed, they had little sense of what was yet to come.

On Palm Sunday, Christians from all over the world process from the Mount of Olives, and ascend the holy hill to the Old City of Jerusalem, ending at St. Anne’s Church. Carrying palm branches and praising God in many languages, they follow the path that Jesus would have taken as he entered the city. The crowds are made up of pilgrims, religious communities, and local Christians, including the Franciscans, the Latin, Greek-Catholic, Syrian-Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates. Also involved in the various processions are the Pontifical Institute, the Latin Parish, the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, and the Church of Sweden. Throughout the day, various masses are held by these groups and many others, including the Armenian-Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate, the Austrian Hospice, the Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate, the Russian Orthodox Ecclesial Mission, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, and the Church of Scotland. It is no overstatement to say that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem is quite the celebration!

Imagine yourself in the middle of the crowd of one of these processions, walking this path. Maybe it is your first time to Jerusalem, and you have come with the hope of understanding Jesus more. As you walk, you hear a cacophony of voices, in all languages, singing and shouting praises to God. You hear palm branches rustling in the wind, and your view of what lies before you is partially blocked by them. The smell of delicious food drifts towards you through open windows and street vendors. As you slowly make your way forward, you see details in the architecture of the city, marking the different eras and communities who have lived there throughout history. You begin to ponder the city’s history, wondering what it was like when Jesus walked these streets. You look out over the landscape of the hills and wonder if Jesus also did the same. You think about Jesus riding into the city on a donkey, and imagine how he might have felt. You wonder if you have misunderstood Jesus, just as the crowds did that day. This is the experience of a pilgrim in the Holy Land. It is an experience of continually wondering who Jesus is, and what that means for your life.

Jesus, knowing that he had been misunderstood, reminded the disciples who he was just days later. They were gathered together having dinner when Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and passed it around saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” He also took a glass of wine, gave thanks, and passed it around the table saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:26-29). Jesus used an ordinary dinner with friends to communicate a profound message of grace and hope, a message they would need to cling to in the coming days.

Whether or not we ever travel to the Holy Land, we are all pilgrims on this journey of knowing God more fully. We practice communion in a variety of ways, all actively remembering these actions of Jesus. We continually seek to know God in different ways -through reading Scripture, praying, spending time in fellowship, and visiting the Holy Land. We do all these things while knowing that we see in a mirror, dimly, but in heaven we will see face to face. Now, we know only in part, but then we will know fully, just as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Dear God,

This morning, we join the crowds shouting “Hosanna,” and praise you for who you truly are. We know that we often misunderstand you, so we ask you to continually reveal yourself to us. Thank you for the gift of communion, in which you remind us to remember you for who you were and still are. Thank you for being our great prophet, priest and king.

In your holy name we pray, Amen.

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