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Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
March 25th , 2018
This question appears in the middle of today’s gospel lesson.
If you happen to be standing around on the outskirts of your village, and two men appear as start untying a young horse that does not belong to them…
If you are such a bystander, and you are at all concerned that the people around you should observe with the rules of social behavior, then this is a very reasonable question to ask!
What’s going on here?
Something isn’t right here!
These men are doing something threatening..
They are taking something that does not belong to them.
They are doing something unreasonable.
So when the bystanders confront Jesus’ disciples in this story and ask
“Why are you untying the colt?”
They are, quite correctly, challenging a breach in the accepted social order.
When they asks “Why are you untying the colt?” they are doing their part to restore the normal, reasonable world—the world in which its not OK to just walk up and start untying horses that don’t belong to you.
Instant Gratification Bible Style
Now you will recall from the reading this morning, that Jesus anticipated all this. Before any of this happens, Jesus calls for two of his disciples and gives them these orders:
“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.’”
I suspect this was a satisfying story for the Jewish people who heard it.
Throughout the New Testament, there are many examples of the ways that Jesus himself was understood to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
This situation is a little different. Here, we see Jesus predicting something that is about to happen, and it immediately comes to pass.
The prediction is impressively detailed. He does not say: “You will find a horse” – he says “you will find a young male horse” – a colt. Not only does he know the age and sex of the horse, he also knows that the colt has “never been ridden.”
How does he know that?
Remember, this story occurs in a pre-scientific age – so Jesus has no binoculars that he can use to see a colt tied to a tree in the distance. He did not get on AirBnB and reserve a Colt.
For the Jews of the first century, there is only one way Jesus can have fore-knowledge of the colt – and that is because he has a knowledge of the future that comes with being the Messiah.
That, at least, is how the people of Judea in the 1st century would interpret it.
It’s a kind of “Instant gratification” Bible style.
But the problem with looking at this story this way, is that it ends up being put into the “proof that Christ is the Messiah” box.
And for my part, I find this a bit lacking in subtlety.
It’s as if I got a fortune cookie that said “You are about to win 12.3 million dollars in the lottery” and I run to the nearest Cumberland Farms and buy a lottery ticket and win 12.3 million dollars.”
What does that prove?
That the fortune cookie could tell the future?
The Jewish and Pagan audiences of antiquity may have really wanted proof of whether or not Christ was the messiah.
And this little bit of fortune telling may have satisfied that need.
But to us, more than 2000 years later, I’m not sure establishing Christ’s messianic status is critically important.
The audiences of Christ’s time had to be convinced that he was worth listening to.
But we’re already listening.
in an effort to make bring this gospel story into contemporary relevance, I hope you don’t mind if I set aside the traditional “Jesus is the Messiah cause he knows the future” interpretation of this story for the time being.
Instead of focusing on “how” Christ makes his request, let’s consider “what” Jesus is requesting of us.
What is Jesus asking us to do for him?
You can tell a lot about a person when she is having contractions.
It was December 17th, 2003 at about 2 in the afternoon and I was sitting beside my wife, Cary in a delivery room at Cambridge Hospital.
She was trying to give birth to our first child.
But as is often the case with first deliveries, her labor was not very efficient. Her contractions were speeding up, and she was experiencing all the pain, but she wasn’t going into labor.
Her grip on my hand would tighten, and she would start yelling and screaming with pain as the contraction rocked her body.
And then, as her hand slowly loosened its grip, and the contraction gave way to blessed relief, she turned to me and said:
“Don’t worry about Kiko!” I said.
“Kiko has to go out…”
Kiko was our dog.
Cary was worried because Kiko was stuck in our little third floor Somerville Apartment and it had been more than 12 hours since she’d been out to do her “business.”
Everytime Cary had a contraction, she forgot about Kiko.
Everytime Cary’s contraction stopped, she worried about Kiko.
And when, at last, an anesthesiologist gave Cary some pain relief so that her body could rest, Cary gave me a stern look, and I said…
“OK, OK!” And I went home to let Kiko out.
We did not have a car, so I called a cab.
When I got home, Kiko was very eager to go.
I took her out.
But no sooner was I back in the apartment when the phone rang.
It was Cary.
“The baby is coming!” she yelled.
I tried to call a cab, but I couldn’t get one!
So I ran!
I ran down to Somerville Avenue.
There were no buses.
There were no taxis.
So I ran in circles.
I saw a police car.
I ran up to the police car, and I said:
“My wife is having a baby! Can you take me to the hospital?”
The policeman looked at me. He said:
“Do I look like a taxi?”
So I ran around some more. I was in the parking lot of CVS. Running around in circles.
A Volvo drove up beside me. A window rolled down.
“What is it?” a woman asked.
“My wife…” I stammered. “Baby!”
“Get in!” she said.
She’d never seen me before. I could have been lying to her. But she knew that I wasn’t. She sensed the presence of something very important, and for this, she was willing to take a chance.
She drove me to the hospital.
I ran up to the delivery room.
30 minutes later, our son Amos was born.
Something Unusual and Amazing
But what does my amusing, rather “rom-com” anecdote have to do with Palm Sunday?
Well, let me start connecting the dots by observing that, as the messiah, Jesus could have just said: “God, give me a horse”
And a horse would have waltzed up.
He could’ve done that.
But he didn’t.
Jesus did use his special divine knowledge to predict that there would be colt tied up outside a nearby village.
But that’s not the important detail about this story.
But for us, in the world that we live in, this is not all that earth shattering. With the help of science and technology, we do this kind of prediction on a daily basis.
For us, the important thing is this…
When the bystanders asked the disciples
“Why are you untying the colt?”
And the disciples said “The Lord needs it.”
The bystanders recognized that they were part of something way bigger than themselves, and they agreed.
They said to themselves — “taking that colt is an unreasonable thing to do, but something unusual and amazing is happening.”
They said to themselves — “taking that colt is an unreasonable thing to do, but the LORD sometimes requires us to do things that, in normal circumstances, would be unreasonable.”
When the disciples said “The Lord needs it.”
The bystanders did not say
“Do I look like a Taxi?”
The bystanders said:
What kind of messiah do we believe in?
Do we believe in a Jesus that can predict things 10 minutes before they happen?
I have no doubt that a messiah could pull that off.
I have no doubt that such a messiah would be helpful to have around when you are about to buy a lottery ticket.
But is that a messiah to believe in?
What does it mean to believe in something?
Do we believe in something just because we can demonstrate it to be true?
If, for example, a magician showed us how to do a magic trick, would we believe in the truth of the sleight of hand?
I think belief ought to mean more than whether or not something can be demonstrated.
We ought to reserve the word “belief” for something that is true because it serves something greater than mere fact.
I suggest that we believe in Jesus Christ, not because he could do amazing things that we can’t do.
I suggest that we believe in Jesus Christ because he served love. And – as today’s lesson suggests — he asked us to do things that serve love – even when it was inconvenient, or unreasonable to do so.
And serving what is good, as Martin Luther King Jr, and Mahatma Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau, and Jesus Christ, all taught us, does not always mean being obedient.
Sometimes, Jesus Christ asks us to be unreasonable in our pursuit of love.
Perhaps, serving the good might mean doing something unreasonable, like listening to the wisdom of children.
The granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. the 9 year-old Yolanda Renee King, spoke to a rally of 800 thousand people gathered in Washington DC for the March for our lives demonstration. She said, and I quote:
“My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun free world, period,”
And then she led this chant:
“Spread the word.
Have you heard,
All across the nation.
are going to be
a great generation!”
If letting a child define policy is an unreasonable thing to do, than maybe the unreasonable thing, is the most reasonable.
This suggestion is not without merit.
Let us not forget that today, on Palm Sunday, Jesus Christ knowingly returned to Jerusalem—the place where he knew he would soon die.
And is not the cross was the most unreasonable thing of all.
Christ went to the cross for the sake of love.
That may be unreasonable, but is certainly something to believe in.