Palm Sunday A, April 9, 2017

April 10, 2017

All’s A Twitter

Matthew 21:1-11


1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Before Twitter was an app for a phone it was an idiom. And that’s a sentence that wouldn’t have made any sense to anyone 10 years ago. Actually it would have made sense to a few people. The social networking service we know of as Twitter was founded in 2016, so it’s a little over 10 years old, but I suspect it remained pretty mysterious to most people for the first few years of its existence. I know it did for me.


I remember having lunch with a guy five or six years ago who tried to explain it to me. He was a very social-media minded young man and he thought it would be a great tool for me and the church I was serving. He did his best to explain how it worked and what it was good for, but it just didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t get my mind around the value of people writing these short messages. I didn’t understand the notions of following and retweeting. This guy established a twitter account for me, but it remained dormant for a couple of years.


I didn’t understand the value of Twitter until I went on my long bike ride to the Atlantic, which was about 3 years ago, and that’s when I came to understand it’s value. I found it to be a great way of letting people know where I was and what was going on each day. It made sense to me for people to follow me on my trip, and I actually developed a bit of a following during that trip. I think I may have had about a dozen followers prior to the beginning of my trip, but I had over a hundred before it was over.


You’ve got a lot of time to think when you’re moving along at about 10 miles per hour, and I discovered that my mind is well suited for thoughts that can be expressed in 140 characters. I became a compulsive tweeter during that trip, but I haven’t maintained my enthusiasm for that method of communication. The thoughts I have as I walk through the aisles of Wal-Mart just aren’t as interesting as were my thoughts as I made my way to the sea.


But now I’m a compulsive twitter reader. I was slow to understand it’s value as a communication tool, but now I don’t wait until the evening news to find out what’s gone on during the day. I check Twitter to find out what’s been going on in the world over the course of the last hour.


Of course before twitter was an app or an idiom, it was a noun. It was the word we used to describe the sound that a bird makes. Now an idiom is the common use of a word for something other than what it originally meant, and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t looked it up, but I did, and this is your English lesson for the day. So before Twitter became one of the most popularly used social media tools, this word was primarily used as an idiom, and it referred to a flurry of activity. If things were a twitter, it didn’t mean there was a bunch birds tweeting, it meant there were a bunch of people stirring around in an atmosphere of giddiness.


And I’ve said all of that in order to say that things were a twitter in Jerusalem when Jesus came riding in to town on that donkey. Few people knew what was actually going on, but lots of people knew that something was going on. They didn’t have access to Twitter, the app, but they weren’t without their communication networks, and the word had gotten out that something significant was about to happen in Jerusalem.


Communication is such an interesting thing. It’s so interesting the way that information is generated and shared. We think of ourselves as having these amazing communication tools and devices, and we do have an amazing amount of access to information, but I’m not sure if this has helped us gain more access to the truth. As surely as we are able to receive near instantaneous blasts of information about what’s going on we’re also presented with instantaneous bursts of commentary and doubt about what’s going on and we filter that information through our variously preferred lenses. I think this pretty much leaves us in the same situation of the people who were in Jerusalem on the day that Jesus rode that donkey in to Jerusalem. It was a boisterous occasion and the sounds that accompanied him were fueled by many different agendas.


What we are looking at this morning is a portrayal of a moment of high tension in a religiously supercharged place, and we have a few short lines to help us understand what was going on. No one was doing any real time tweeting in this situation, and Matthew used more than 140 characters to describe this situation, but he chose his words carefully to help us get a sense of what was going on at this moment in history. I’m sort of seeing this morning’s passage of scripture as a tweet from one of the most significant gatherings of people in the history of the world.


It’s interesting to think about the various agenda’s that were represented in the crowd that day, and how Matthew revealed those agendas with very few words. The retrieval of the donkey for Jesus to ride on is an indication that there were lots of people who were ready for their messiah to arrive, and there were people willing for Jesus to be THE ONE. This donkey wasn’t made available to Jesus because one of the disciples knew someone who knew someone. Jesus sent unnamed disciples to get the donkey, and the story indicates that it was available because it was Jesus who sent them and he gave them very clear instructions on what to say. This little detail speaks to the unprecedented authority Jesus had with people who were open the actual presence of God.


But there were many different agendas represented in Jerusalem at that time. In those days Jerusalem was probably swollen to two or three times it’s normal size for the Passover celebration. Many of the people who came to Jerusalem were angry over the foreign occupation of their nation. Israel was occupied by the Romans, and they hated paying taxes to Rome. These people had a shared vision of a new king who was going to purge their homeland of those foreign occupiers and their demand for money. You can bet many of these people were lining the streets to welcome this man named Jesus that they had heard rumors about. These people were shouting hosanna with the zeal of political partisans.


The political leaders of Israel weren’t as enthusiastic about an uprising as were the Jewish populists. They didn’t like being occupied by the Romans, but they were more practical in this regard. Instead of wanting to throw off the Roman yoke, they concentrated on maintaining their Jewish identity within the Roman occupation. The Romans actually provided a degree of protection from other potential invaders who might be more hostile toward their religious practices. The Romans allowed them to keep the Temple practices going. There probably weren’t many of them lining the road as Jesus came in to town. They had no interest in getting any undue attention from the Romans.


The Pharisees represented the most powerful party within the Jewish community, and they had their own way of dealing with Roman occupation. They sought to maintain their Jewish identity by promoting strict observance of Jewish rituals. They were real big on the practice of offering sacrifices at the Temple, and this was a large operation with a very clear set of religious protocols.


In order to make the proper sacrifice, you had to have the right quality of pigeon or goat or whatever type of animal you wanted to sacrifice, and of course there were people on hand to sell those religiously approved animals. It wouldn’t do much good to bring an animal from the farm because the men who approved the animals for sacrifice were closely associated with the people who sold the authorized blemish free animals. The people who sold the blemish free animals had to have religiously approved money, so there was this side operation of getting your money exchanged.


This political and religious arrangement was very satisfying to the people who oversaw the Temple operations, but it put a lot of pressure on the people. They were taxed by the Romans and gouged by the priests. They wanted some relief, and Jesus looked like the man who could deliver what they wanted. Of course the religious leaders saw Jesus as the one who could mess up a relatively good thing. So they might have been lining the streets as Jesus came in to town, but they weren’t cheering him on.


This is what Jesus saw as he rode into town on that donkey — an abundance of abuse and confusion about who God was and what God wanted. Tremendous and diverse passions and agendas met on that day in Jerusalem. It was a formula for the high drama that would play out in the days to come.


And a significant thing we should acknowledge is that Jesus wasn’t unwilling to be noticed as he entered Jerusalem. Jesus understood these various agendas that were at play, but he didn’t try to stifle the enthusiasm of the people who greeted him. This wasn’t the safest way for him to enter Jerusalem, but at this point in the story his concern for his own safety was over. In his earlier days he had tried not to make a large show of his work because he didn’t want to be eliminated prematurely, but he was entering Jerusalem in full daylight with great attention.


The fact that the people were greeting him with acts of adoration and this shout of Hosanna was not something that would have gone unnoticed by the Roman authorities or their Jewish collaborators.


This is a scene that would have been ripe for tweeting and retweeting. Matthew says people were asking the question, Who is this?, and I think this is the question we are all to be asking of ourselves. Who is Jesus? And what are we hoping to get from him.


Jesus wasn’t a tweeter in the current sense of the word, but we would all do well to follow him and the messages he provides. He doesn’t send them out in 140 character bursts, but he has essential information for us. It’s not as easy to access those messages as it is to check a Twitter account, but we what Jesus has to say is so much more important than anyone any of us are currently following on Twitter.


We have a large challenge, and it’s the same challenge that those people of Jerusalem had when Jesus entered that city. Our challenge is to not let our own petty and personal desires overshadow our desire to know who Jesus really was and what he had to say. Our opportunity is to allow Jesus to be the most important person we follow in life. The living Christ doesn’t have a Twitter account, but we can follow him. Things are a twitter in our world, and we need to be able to hear the message of Christ above all the other messages we are bombarded by on an hourly basis.


You don’t need a Twitter account to gain access to the most essential information anyone can ever get. It doesn’t come in 140 characters, but it can come in to our hearts if we will open them to the Holy Spirit. The loving message of Christ seeks to guide us on to the path of true life.


Thanks be to God. Amen


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