Contextualizing the Gospel

Posted: March 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

This week I will be writing my sermon for Palm Sunday. One of the things I really love to is to help my congregation relate to the passage at hand. Bible passages, especially familiar ones like this one, sometimes run the risk of becoming taken for granted. That is we hear the story so often that we forget that there was a time when real people lived this in real time. One way to help people to get it is to contextualize the Gospel.

Take for example how the disciples accessed the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem. All four Gospels record what theologians call the Triumphal Entry, with the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) sharing the most detail surrounding the acquisition of the donkey, with Mark being arguably the most detailed, so let’s start there.

Mark 11:1-6 says: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.

It’s a very familiar story, right? But it’s almost matter of fact. Jesus told them what to do, they found everything just as he said, did what he said and everything worked out perfectly, just as he said. That’s all good and it’s true, but have you ever thought to put yourself in the disciple’s shoes. Let me contextualize the passage for you now.

What I will say to my congregation is something to the effect of, “Suppose I looked out at you this morning and told you, right after the service, I want one of you to go over to the Giant grocery store on route 309. When you get there, you will find a yellow smart car with the keys in it. I want you to go and get that car and bring it to me, and if anyone asks you why you’re taking the car, just tell them Pastor Dave needs it and they will send it with you straight away.”

I will then ask the question, “Who is going to get me the car?” All of the sudden this story takes on a new reality. People start to think about what it must have been like for the disciples to follow through on the Lord command. They start to see the level of trust they had to have in Jesus. With this information, people start to understand the risk that was involved. Let’s take it further.

I will say something like “Now imagine while you’re there, essentially committing grand theft auto, someone stops you and asks you why you are taking their car, you tell them, you’re bringing it for me, so they let you go and you bring me the car.” Now of course not all the things correlate exactly. For starters, I’m not Jesus, but in their society it could be argues that He and I hold similar roles, since the majority of the people did not assume he was divine, but that He was a religious teacher, a rabbi. That being said, this story helps them to see his divinity. Not only did He tell them what to do and what they would find, but he told them the reactions of the people around them and told theme exactly what would happen in advance. In this they see the power of God manifested in Jesus.

Now you might wonder why I picked a Smart car. It was the smallest car I could think of and that is sort of the point of the donkey’s colt. When a king came into a city to conquer, they would ride in on an impressive stallion, but if a king came in peace, He would ride in on something that would be tiny and useless in battle. The donkey’s colt was the fulfillment of prophecy, but it was also something the people should have understood that they clearly did not, I would argue because they willfully chose to overlook it. When Jesus rode that donkey through the streets, the people shouted “Hosanna,” and the expectation was clear. Jesus was going to come in and overthrow Rome and put them into political power. The donkey should have shown otherwise. Jesus didn’t come to overthrow Rome. His battle was not with flesh and blood (people) but with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the Romans, he came to overthrow hell and death and the grave. When the people realized that He was not going to give them what they wanted, power and prestige, “Hosanna became Crucify!” If he had wanted to overthrow Rome, he would have rode into town in a Hummer or a Tank, instead he brought the Smart Car of their time, a donkey’s colt. The people of Jesus’ day missed the reference. Let’s make sure our congregations don’t miss it!

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