How Do You Say That I Am?'
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It’s fitting, in a way, that our number is smaller this year. It’s good that we’re able to be together at all isn’t it? A small number is fitting, I think, for the story as Mark tells it. It’s a story many of us have heard so many times. It’s a story that we always come back to as we start Holy Week. No mention of palms in Mark (or Matthew or Luke for that matter – we get that detail from John). No uproar in the city, no turmoil. Nothing to attract the attention of Pharisees. No talk of “The whole world has gone after him.” No talk of Jesus as Son of David or king here on the part of the crowd.
No talk of it from Jesus either. He’s silent once he’s finished giving his instructions. I would like us to sit with the silence of Jesus as much as we can this day and this week. “Who then is this?” It’s the question we’ve been asking. Who then are we, as His followers? We have this picture of Jesus astride a young donkey, and we will borrow that detail from the other Gospel writers. He’s not speaking. His feet barely clear the ground. This is not a Roman ruler coming in wearing a red cape, riding a white warhorse.
Look, your king is coming! What kind of king is this?
The scene fades into a flashback. We heard a story about Jesus causing a blind man to see. Jesus laid his hands on a man and then laid his hands on the man again. It causes a progression in the man’s ability to see, and we say, “Lord lay your hands on us. Help us to see. Help us to see everything in your light. Help us to see who you are.”
Who is he? Who do people say that he is? The scene fades into the next one as Jesus and his disciples are heading north to Caesarea Philippi. It’s a little removed from Galilee where Jesus and his followers have been operating. A town named for an emperor, is filled with edifices dedicated to the gods of this world, because we like to build edifices dedicated to our gods. A town in what is called today the Golan Heights, close to the Syrian border (you may have visited it or you may have the chance one day – I recommend it). Jesus and his followers are far enough away from where they’ve been operating for a measure of objectivity to come into play, and an objective question is asked.
“Who do people say that I am?” They answer him, “John the Baptist; and others Elijah; and still others one of the prophets.” This makes sense. Prophets tell forth. Prophets tell you what’s going on. We remember those opening scenes where Jesus was on the move and his message was “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.” God’s plan is in motion, the kingdom of God is within our reach, turn and believe, trust, rest in him. Jesus is not here to simply ask objective questions. We’re not here to simply speculate or have a philosophical/hypothetical discussion. Caesarea Philippi might be far enough away to view things objectively, but if one looks south one can see the lake. One can see down the Jordan River valley, looking toward Jerusalem where this story was always going. Looking south we see images of John the Baptist and Jesus in the Jordan River. We see the heavens being torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove. We see Jesus walking along beside the lake, stopping by two sets of brothers and saying “Follow me.” We see people being made whole. We see people asking “Who does he think he is?” We see people being forgiven and made new. We see people rejecting him. We see him in a boat telling the wind and the waves to shut up, and they do.
Don’t take this man lightly. Don’t take him lightly as he asks the question directly now, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter steps up, “You are the Messiah.” You are the chosen one. You are the anointed one. You are the Christ. Jesus says “Don’t tell anyone” because it wasn’t quite time yet. The time is here now though. Your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey.
Who then is this? What kind of king is this? We think of the shout “Hosanna!” It means “Save us now!” We can’t help but recall what happened as Jesus and his followers made their way out of Jericho. It’s a city 800 feet below sea level. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving it (it was time to head up to Jerusalem), a blind man was begging alongside the road. Bartimaeus. Son of Timaeus, in other words, and you know he must have become famous. Christian famous anyway (big in Baptist circles as I like to say). “Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries. Shrieks literally. People tell him to keep quiet. How unseemly to let our need be known. Bartimaeus cried ever more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus says “What do you want me to do for you?” “My teacher, let me see again.” “Go, your faith has made you well,” Jesus tells him. Your faith has saved you, literally. Bartimaeus didn’t understand everything at that point, and he would understand more in a few weeks I’m sure, but like countless others, he came away from an encounter with Jesus made whole, transformed, given new life. Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
Bartimaeus has joined the group and the time has come. Kingdom time is here. There will be no more need to keep quiet. Even now though, the scene is cloaked in ambiguity. Mark is keeping it subtle. This entry is hardly what you would call triumphant, and I think we do well to consider that in our silence today and this week. Elements of “kingliness” are mixed in with elements of humility and silence- pointing toward the truth that the way of this king is through suffering and death. This is all part of God’s plan. The things that will happen in Jerusalem are not simply being done to Jesus. They are all part of God’s plan. They are all part of Jesus’ way. Three times between Caesarea Philippi and Jerusalem Jesus tells his disciples, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed he will rise again.” (9:31) The plan is in motion. They are at Bethpage and Bethany (where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived) and Jesus sends two disciples into the village (because we’re not meant to do this walk alone). “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 immediately.” (9:2-4) Was this divine knowledge or had Jesus made arrangements? We don’t know. Who does Jesus mean by Lord? Himself? God? The colt’s owner? We don’t know. We know that we Jesus in carrying out a divine plan, calling for a colt that had never been ridden (denoting a sacred purpose, God’s purpose) and invoking the name Lord.
Jesus is not going to be speaking, but his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt speaks for him. This was not done. Even Alexander the Great was persuaded to enter Jerusalem on foot. Flashback to King Solomon entering Jerusalem on a mule in 1 Kings 1:38-39. A greater than Solomon is here, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
They fashion a saddle out of cloaks for Jesus to sit on. Many spread their cloaks on the road and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the field. This is not something you would do for just anyone. It is how you would greet a king. When you reach the top of the Mount of Olives you get your first sight of Jerusalem. It’s cause for shouting, for singing, for celebration. They sing a pilgrim song from a Psalm that recalled the saving power of God in bringing God’s people out of Egypt. It is Passover time. It is Kingdom time. People: Hosanna!
Leader: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! People: Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Leader: Hosanna in the highest heaven!
From Psalm 118:25-26 – “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.” This was a song for traveling people – pilgrim people. We are a pilgrim people. This is our pilgrim song. This is our King. To count yourself as a follower of Christ means that this is your story, this is your song. Hosanna! Save Lord, we pray! 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! Those who went with him, those ahead of him and those who followed him were shouting. Then, nothing.
Well, not nothing. Sound-wise, not a lot. The crowd that went with him seems to have dispersed. They’re not mentioned again here in the scene anyway. That’s ok though because the kingdom of God is not like a crowd. The kingdom of God is not like the adulation of a crowd. Jesus is still not speaking. “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (11:11).
Someone has said that the point here is “… Jesus is Lord of the Temple, who must inspect its premises to determine whether the purpose intended by God is being fulfilled.” May we take the time to stand before this silent Jesus this week, as we wait. Lent is a time of waiting and preparation to celebrate our crucified and risen King. This week is a special one in that time of waiting. It’s Kingdom time. It’s restoration time, redemption time. May Jesus find us fulfilling the purposes which God intends. Let us sit now in silence and hear God’s word.
Read: Genesis 49:10-11a