Today we remember that Jesus went to Jerusalem – and that’s a detail I don’t want us to overlook.
It seems obvious, right? It’s why we’re waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna.” It’s why we call this “Palm Sunday.” Jesus came to Jerusalem and the crowds threw him an impromptu parade, fit for a king!
But see – in that previous sentence, everything that followed the word “Jerusalem” can distract us. Look beyond the crowd and the parade for a minute. Just see this one, simple fact:
Jesus went willingly to Jerusalem.
He went because he knew what was going to happen there. He knew what would come after the palm branches and parade: a lonely and painful self-sacrifice. Not long before today’s Scripture he named it point-blank:
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).
Jesus didn’t run away from Jerusalem – he walked (paraded!) straight in. And he didn’t go in fighting, either; when his disciples reached his swords, he told them to put them away. Out of obedience to God and love for us, Jesus went to his own sacrificial death.
In other words, Jesus showed us the third way.
When we see sacrifice coming – when we feel vulnerable or threatened – we humans respond in one of two ways: fight or flight. Sometimes we rise up, puff up, fist up. Other times we hide, run away, or avoid. We fight, or we flee.
It’s only natural. Just think how most of us respond to the hot-button political issues out there right now: we either get confrontational and argumentative… or avoid the topics altogether.
Or think about the last time you got hurt. How did you react? Did you throw punches or insults or rumors – did you fight? Or did you break off the relationship altogether – did you flee?
These are the normal responses to danger. Jesus did neither.
Jesus went willingly to Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t fight; he humbled himself. Jesus didn’t flee; he took on the role of a slave.
We need to see this – to see that Jesus went to Jerusalem and took the third way – because it is our way as his followers.
Look, again, at Jesus Christ on this Palm Sunday. Watch him as he walks calmly into Jerusalem. See him go directly into the place of conflict, no weapons in hand. This is his Way: the Way of sacrifice. It is the Way of emptying ourselves out of love for God and love for others.
It is terrifying, but in truth, it is the only way.
When our response is to fight… our enemies respond with bigger punches, and the battle escalates. When our response is flight… our enemies stay our enemies, with no chance of reconciliation. In the long run, neither fight nor flight really works.
The only way is to follow Jesus – to walk into whatever is “Jerusalem” for us with our weapons left behind and our arms wide open.
This Way is not easy. I’m such a novice in it that I struggle even to explain it. So don’t watch me – watch what Jesus does on this Holy Week. Watch him as he enters Jerusalem, has a last meal with his disciples, washes their feet, prays desperately in Gethsemane, lets the authorities seize him, submits to their torture, hangs on their cross…
…and ultimately, raises from their grave.