Mark 11:1–10 NRSV
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
It is really challenging (if not impossible) to read the Gospel from the beginning, going through it for the first time as an unknowing pilgrim reader. We know how the story ends and, because of that, we tend to interpret the story from the vantage point of knowing the ending. We call it a “triumphal entry” only because we know the resurrection is on the other side. But imagine heading into it all without knowing.
It’s interesting how our lives are lived in just the opposite fashion. We don’t know how it will all turn out and so we can only interpret the future from the perspective of the past, and because to one degree or another, we have a broken past we tend to see the future through broken lenses.
Of course, this is where our faith comes into play. Faith means we do know how it will all end up, because we know the bigger story in which the smaller stories of our lives are being played out. Faith means living in the here and now in the distinctive kinds of ways (i.e., Christian) one would live if they knew ahead of time how the story would end. In the case of the Christian story, that’s why we have the possibility of such freedom, joy, and peace. In fact, if we don’t presently enjoy some level of freedom, joy, and peace in the present, we might want to ask ourselves some deeper questions about whether we really do have faith in the way it will all turn out (or if our freedom, joy, and peace is just the best version that money can buy).
However, when we are living in the here and now in the distinctive kinds of ways (i.e., Christian) we would live if we knew ahead of time how the story would end, the people around us will often not understand. Why? Because we will be living in ways that are counterintuitive to the ways of the world. It’s why Jesus disciples his disciples in these distinctive kinds of ways—like the last will be first, and the one who serves will be the greatest, and whoever loses their self for my sake will find it. This is not some bloated idealism. This is the way of faith. This is the way human beings were intended to live. And Jesus shows us the possibility of all of it. As I have said many times, “As Jesus was on earth, so we are becoming,” and, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
So what does all of this have to do with today’s text? Nothing and everything. As Jesus sat atop that donkey and rode into Jerusalem, no one around him had any idea of what he was really doing. They thought they did. They had some kind of outcome in mind, but they were wrong. They had a good sense of how the big story would end, but they completely misunderstood how it would ultimately get there. In fact, the complete opposite happened. Their leader was executed as a common criminal.
Only Jesus knew what lay ahead in Jerusalem and beyond and he knew how it would all end, yet he still had to live it out by faith. This is why later in Scripture he is called the author and pioneer of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2). He is the One who walked the way, living in the here and now in the distinctive kinds of ways one would live if they knew ahead of time how the story would end. That’s why we follow him. That’s why we keep our eyes fixed on him. It’s why we can agree with Paul that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
The miracle of the life hid with God in Christ is that in the midst of the greatest hardships and pain the divine promise empowers in us the ability to live in freedom, joy, and peace, despite it all.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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