Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, it is easy for us to become so accustomed to human modes of power that we need a good dose of parody to shake us awake to the manner of your love in Jesus, the Christ. Give us again, a healthy dose of divine humor reminding us of the Good News that in Jesus you set us free. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
I never worked in a large office, like the one at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Maybe that is why I never really got the popularity of Michael Scott and Duane Schrute. Get my brother Paul together with our daughter, Tommie, and her husband, Jason, and you may be sure it won’t be long before there is a reference to The Office.
After the first episode, the writers did some research in offices around the Country. From there they developed a show that ran for more than 200 episodes. It seems that those who have spent any amount of time in an office setting in corporate America can identify with the parody of office life come to television screen in the nine seasons the show aired.
The Wiki refers to The Office as a mockumentary. For others of us there was Saturday Night Live with its regular skits that parodied politics, religion, and social situations. Some sketches were funnier than others. But for many of us it is the same sort of mocking that The Office is known for among its cult like fan base, still.
If you have ever read a piece from The Onion not realizing it was real fake news, then you have a very real awareness that American humor includes a significant thread of parody. If there is any group of people in modern times that gets showcased in skits and shows in exaggerated ways it is the TV preacher. You know what that means; we are all targets now.
When Matthew tells the story of Jesus it is not hard to get a sense that Jesus is putting in another day at the office, working to draw attention to the absence of faithfulness among the religious and the presence of faith among the profane. And that is my first point.
Matthew sets Jesus from Nazareth, a construction worker, over against the religious leadership who sat in authority over the people. These leaders held up the rigors of righteousness with little help to lift the burden these expectations placed on people. Story after story illustrates the conflict between the presence of faith among the profane and the absence of faithfulness of the religious. Even the clothing worn by the religious leaders presents quite an ironic picture when placed alongside a common construction worker from Nazareth turned popular teacher. Parody runs throughout the story of conflict.
It wasn’t just the difference in attire. The contrast between Jesus’ own story with those who sat in the designated seats of the powerful religious extends the exaggeration. Jesus was raised the son of a construction worker. He most likely apprenticed with his Dad. In our day, when we think Jesus was a carpenter, our minds tend to think Joseph raised Jesus in Chip and Joanna Gaines shop full of beautiful handmade items created for home transformations. He would have been more adept at fitting animals for yokes than crafting benches for breakfast nooks. It is more likely that Jesus grew up building stages for local theaters than he did sanding butcher block countertops. The word for hypocrite that Jesus used, for example, came from the play acting, drama, found in theaters built in Galilean cities.
When it comes to the large bits of Jesus’ life about which we know little, we tend to glamorize the gaps. Don’t be offended. It just sounds better that Jesus built furniture than that he built stages. One of my friends here at church has often said, “I’m just a dumb, old, construction worker.” He is anything but dumb. And, since we are about the same age, I am going to go ahead and suggest he is not old either.
But we do.
That is, certain things do come to mind when we hear someone identify as a construction worker. Hopefully, what most think of is better than when they hear someone say they are a preacher!
If the expectation was that a religious leader would dress in long flowing robes in colors that drew attention to their position and power, then Jesus, a construction worker from Nazareth, would be obvious to those looking to discern who might be dressed for the most success. Imagine what a great advertisement for sarcasm were posters put up all over Israel touting Jesus was the Messiah.
The group in Jesus’ parade remind us that Jesus had in mind the people subject to the abuse and misuse of human power over others. These instances reveal the persistence of the Powers of Sin and Death that hold human beings captive to the worst of our nature. And that is my second point.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, those opposed to Jesus called attention to the likes of Jesus’ followers.
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ response exposes the way power is wielded by human beings over others. Disdain. Arrogance. Pride. Jesus’ reply points up his mission,
It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinners.
Human beings wield power in ways that rather than use their power for the good of all, it is often is used in ways that work against the good of those most in need.
Look at the social and religious misfits in Jesus’ group of followers. Fishermen. Tax Collectors. Doubters. Zealots. And not a few we know little about. His twelve proved no match for the seventy if it is a matter of popularity. One of the features of a good parody – significant contrasts – is evident in the difference in appearance and mission between Jesus and the powerful religious.
So here, in our Text for today, on Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, we see God reveal his good in dramatic fashion that may be best understood in Matthew’s gospel as divine parody. From an earthly perspective the event here in Matthew seems misnamed. If Jesus’ week ends in death, how could this possibly be triumphant? Even Matthew edits the Zechariah text to exclude the reference to the Messiah who rides into town on a donkey,
triumphant and victorious is he.
The event undermines every expectation for any person setting out to bring peace and freedom to the captive and oppressed. Hearing the people shout Hosanna, which in some contexts means, Save Us, is pregnant with irony given that entering Jerusalem on the West side of town would have been Herod. Those in Jesus’ entourage included the very ones needing a doctor while on the other side of town those unaware of their need are caught up in an annual parade of the very powers that keep them hungry and wandering, like sheep without a shepherd.
Were we to have a birds-eye view of the spectacle, something made for the age of the screen, even the big screen, we would need more than the single camera setup used for The Office. We would need a wide angle lens to capture the drama. The contrast would be chilling. We would certainly see the distinction in appearance and think it absurd to compare Roman soldiers to the disciples. But that is the point.
In a show of force, a reminder to the people who is in charge, Herod would ride into town from the West. He would be accompanied by soldiers reminding the people that thought they may observe their high holy day, Passover, but they need not forget that they are subjects of the Roman Empire. They are the occupied. Carry on. Just don’t get out of hand. Human history, and even modern times, provide illustrations of these displays of power to make sure we know who is big and who is small, who is right and who has might.
Over against the pomp and circumstance of Herod’s parade, we would see a much smaller crowd on the East side of Jerusalem. More than simply a dramatic move, Jesus’ manner entering Jerusalem reveals the very manner in which God will bring peace and liberation just days later. And that is my final point. Jesus, the Christ, reveals God’s promise that what came to Israel while in Egypt through Moses comes to all of us in Jesus, God’s Messiah.
Jesus enters Jerusalem on the opposite side of town riding on a donkey, no soldiers in tow. A ragtag band of followers lead the way with their cloaks and branches. Here in the fifth section of Matthew, corresponding with the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus’ dramatic action calls back to the Exodus. In the book of Exodus, Moses hears from the LORD in the wilderness of Zinn that he should return to Egypt and lead Israel’s liberation. He sets out with his family on a donkey. Jesus re-enacts the familiar role of Moses the Liberator as he rides into Jerusalem.
Not only does Matthew give us a call back to the Exodus, the most powerful motif in Scripture, Matthew sees the action as a fulfillment of the long held hope that the Messiah would come from the East, from the Mount of Olives, and would establish the Kingdom of God. When Matthew tells the story he calls back to Zechariah 9. Beginning in the second line of verse 5, we get,
Look, our king is coming to you,
humble and mounted on a donkey
The imagery of the Messiah coming on a beast of burden cannot escape our notice. It is a piece of the drama that foretells that Jesus will bear the burdens of the people who suffer the captivity of the Powers of Sin and Death all the way to the Cross.
Isaiah would point to the burden the Messiah would bear,
Yet he himself bore our sickness, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
Human beings, even we today, miss the parody, the contrast between what we think sets us free and what actually does.
Where Isaiah’s words give us the prospect of what the Messiah will do, the Apostle Peter gives us the retrospect of what Jesus did and does as our Messiah,
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that having died to sins, we night live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
You see the final parody? How is it that Jesus entering Jerusalem only to die could in any way be considered triumphant? Only when we understand that the power of God is the power of his love for us and not some divine love of power. This is a parody of human power.
Not only did the donkey foretell the burden he would bear. But, it also conjured the memory of David who just prior to his death he called for his donkey on which he would have Solomon ride as the new King over Israel. Yes, the donkey was also a sign of royalty. Seeing Jesus enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the crowd exclaiming Hosanna – Save Us – provoked the hope that David’s Kingdom would be re-established again in Jesus.
No wonder we hear blessed. In Jesus’ act, his parody of Herod’s parade, for a brief moment, the people see in Jesus God’s promise. The problem? The problem is that Jesus did not exhibit Herod’s power and lost the attention of the people. In disappointment, they expressed their frustration, let down as it were by Jesus, they killed him.
Come Easter, the end of Holy Week, the ultimate contrast is given when as the Apostle Paul puts it, Jesus is vindicated as the Son of God in the resurrection. Jesus makes a mockymentary of Sin and Death. The final parody still gets played out when human beings trust that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection God’s power of love sets captives free from the Powers of Sin and Death.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here.. You may listen and/or watch here.