4.10.22 Palm Sunday homily on Luke 19:28-40 by Pastor Galen
How many of you believe that the Lord needs us?
It’s a tricky question, because on the one hand, we know that God doesn’t need anyone or anything. God is the creator of the universe, the earth, and the sea, and the sky, and so God doesn’t really need anyone in order to do anything.
And yet, God often chooses to work through physical creatures, and so in that sense the Lord does need us.
The problem with leaning too heavily in one direction is that it can lead to nihilism and the idea that nothing we do has any purpose or meaning or value.
The problem with leaning too heavily in the other direction is that it can lead us to think too highly of ourselves, or to put too much pressure on ourselves. We begin to think that the world rests on our shoulders, that we are the center of the universe, and that everything revolves around us.
Our Scripture lessons this morning help us to strike an even balance, since we see on the one hand Jesus welcoming the participation of the crowd and even expressing his need for a donkey, while on the other hand he affirms to the religious leaders that his mission in the world would not be thwarted by their lack of welcome. And so, while God doesn’t need us, God chooses to use us. This should be both a humbling and a life-giving reminder for us.
God Doesn’t Need Me
During my third year in college I had been asked to be the president of the campus Christian fellowship on my college campus. I found this role both rewarding and all-consuming, and I began to devote more and more of my time and attention to serving in this capacity. Eventually, though, I felt as though I had reached the limits of my capacity to serve, and yet I thought that if I just had the capacity to devote a little more time or energy or resources, then surely God would do even greater things on our campus.
My wife, Eboni, who was another student leader in the fellowship, listened to me share about how I wished I had more time and energy to give to my role. The needs and opportunities were so great, and I felt like I just needed to do more.
Eboni reassured me that God did not need me – and that if there was something that needed to be done that was beyond my limits or ability or calling, then God could surely raise up someone else to do the work. Eboni reminded me that I am not the Messiah, that the world does not rest upon my shoulders, and that God is quite capable of doing what needs to be done without my help.
The Lord Needed a Donkey…
And yet, here in this passage, we see very clearly Jesus expressing need – in this case, not for someone, but rather something.
Here in Luke 19 verse 30 as Jesus was nearing the city of Jerusalem, he instructed two of his disciples to borrow a colt that had never been ridden, and he tells them that if anyone asks why they are borrowing it, they should simply say that “The Lord needs it.” Sure enough, when they go to untie it, the owners ask what they are doing, and the disciples tell them, “The Lord needs it” (Luke 19:34).
Why did Jesus need this colt? Was Jesus tired? Had he just been walking too much, and felt like he just couldn’t walk any further? Was he in a hurry to get to Jerusalem and perhaps thought that riding a donkey would help him get there faster?
In Philipians the Apostle Paul reminds us that in coming to this earth, Jesus humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant. And so he experienced human needs and desires and temptations, just as we do, and so it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that Jesus was tired or in a hurry and that’s why he needed this colt.
But I believe there was something else going on here. I think that Jesus needed to borrow this donkey because he wanted to demonstrate something through his actions that could not have been expressed in any other way.
You see, in Jesus’s day there was no TV or youtube or tiktok. And many of the people didn’t know how to read. And so when someone wanted to get a message across it had to either be spoken, or depicted visually.
Several of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament used what today might be called “Performance Art” to get their message across. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, walked around with a yoke over his shoulders – a piece of farming equipment usually placed on animals pulling carts. Jeremiah did this to proclaim the warning that the people would soon be enslaved by the Babylonians, unless they repented. The prophet Ezekiel built a model of the city of Jerusalem and lay on his side in the town square for months at a time as a symbol that the city of Jerusalem would be besieged, unless they repented.
And so here in this passage Jesus is following in this line of performance art and prophetic tradition, using the power of symbolism to proclaim truth in a way that would be heard and received by the people of his day.
And what was that point? Well, throughout the Gospel narratives Jesus proclaimed himself to be a king – not of an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly kingdom. And kings in that time period would on certain occasions ride donkeys or colts. Not, of course, when they were riding into battle or processing in a military parade. In those situations they would choose a steed or a great stallion.
But a king might choose to ride into a town or city on a donkey when he wanted to proclaim that he was coming in peace – either as a sign of humble surrender, or because the town or city already belonged to him, and he therefore had no need to demonstrate his military prowess or might.
And so, Jesus’s choice to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was a prophetic, symbolic action that demonstrated both his kingship, and his humility. Both the fact that he already had the authority to rule and reign, and the fact that his purpose in coming was to bring peace and reconciliation between God and humanity, ultimately by giving his life on the cross in our place.
…the Stones Would Cry Out
Now, what should have happened in a situation where a king rode into a town or city on a donkey to extend peace is that the elders and leaders of the city should have streamed out of the city gates to welcome him. They should have rolled out the red carpet, and given him the keys of the city, or whatever the equivalent was in those days.
Even if Jesus was not an earthly king, he certainly was a type of celebrity. He had thousands of followers, thousands of people who would come to hear him preach, and he had been slowly working his way towards Jerusalem. News traveled fast in those days even without Twitter and Facebook, and so the leaders of the city most likely had heard that he was coming.
And yet there is no welcoming committee from Jerusalem – no leaders warmly welcoming him or greeting him and handing him the keys to the city. The only representatives that we see from Jerusalem are a few religious leaders who were members of the group called the Pharisees, who were grumbling and complaining about the commotion that Jesus and his disciples were making.
In the absence of the leaders of Jerusalem welcoming him and rolling out the red carpet, Luke tells us that the common everyday people – probably of all ages and stages of life and backgrounds, spread their cloaks on the road (Luke 19:36) to make a makeshift red carpet for him as he was approaching the city of Jerusalem. And “the whole multitude of the disciples” who had been traveling with him, Luke says, “began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38).
Since the leaders and chief priests and scribes and elders of the city would not welcome him or hail him as a king, the multitude of his disciples did so. But even so, Jesus told the religious leaders that even if the people in the crowd had kept silent, the very stones would have shouted out in praise and exaltation, proclaiming his kingly reign (Luke 19:40).
Jesus’s mission would not be thwarted by a lack of reception from those in power. He would be proclaimed King. Even throughout the week leading up to his death and crucifixion, we see that even when many of his own followers rejected him or turned away, still Jesus moved forward in accomplishing the task that had been set before him. Although he welcomed all to come with him, his mission was not thwarted by the rejection of the religious leaders, the betrayal or denial of his closest followers, or by those who simply lost interested or turned away.
An Invitation to All
And today God’s mission is still going forward. And I hope that we find it encouraging that God invites us to be a part of it, and yet the whole mission and mandate of God does not rest on our shoulders alone. If Jesus can use a donkey to proclaim his kingly rule and reign, then surely God can use any of us, as we willingly submit ourselves to his humble lordship in our lives and in our world.
We are challenged and invited to participate in God’s mission. No matter who we are, or what we’ve done or haven’t done, God has a role for us to play in accomplishing his purposes on this earth. But it is also humbling. Because when we follow Jesus, we are called to live in the way Jesus did – through humbly loving and serving others – even those who may reject us or our message.
You know, interestingly enough, I think there were many people in Jesus’s day who would have loved to follow Jesus if he had rode into Jerusalem on a war horse, intent to overthrow the Roman government. They would have been willing to fight with Jesus to the death if it meant committing acts of violence against their enemies. But they were unwilling to follow the humble king who came in peace, and who was willing to suffer and die for the sins of the world.
Following Jesus today involves that same sort of love and humility. It involves extending peace and love even to those who are most antagonistic towards our faith – not seeking revenge, but rather extending God’s love to them, praying for them, and seeking to serve them with the same type of humble service and love that Christ showed his followers.
And so this morning, may we join with the disciples who welcomed Jesus as their humble king. Throughout this week, may we stand with the faithful women disciples who stood by Jesus to the end. May we rest in the assurance that it does not all depend on us – that we are not the Messiah, but that we are invited to participate in God’s mission of healing and redemption in this world.