Palm Sunday, Echo Chambers, and Self-Defeat


Into the cave, I call to my best friend:

Hello! Says I.
Hello! Says he.
Good morning! I say to him.
Good morning! He says to me.

He never intrudes, never imposes,
Never assumes, never supposes.
Asks nothing of me that I would not ask of him,
And if I shout for joy, he shouts for joy again!

He loves who I love and hates who I hate,
Always likeminded. No disagreements, no debates.
If I change my mind, he changes his, too,
When I tell him what I think, he repeats it anew.

Our friendship is filled with such joy and such glee,
Our bond is inseparable, my echo and me.


It is absurd – I know – to befriend our own echo. And yet, let’s be honest – it is so easy to do just that. Our circle of friends remains small enough to include near carbon-copies of ourselves, with rarely a disagreement and hardly a differing perspective.

With social media, this issue is exacerbated. Not only do we tend to surround ourselves with likeminded people, unfriending or unfollowing those with whom we disagree in order to no longer endure the insult of being exposed to differing perspectives, but social media has encouraged us to be more vocal about those things that we used to avoid discussing in “polite company.” Not only do we filter out divergent ideas, but we amplify voices that affirm the views and beliefs we already hold.

Jesus encounters something similar in the passages we often read on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–11, Luke 19:28–44, and John 12:12–19).

Mark 11:1-11 (NIV)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The word “Hosanna” is insider-language. Most scholars believe that it is two Hebrew words that have been smashed together to form an expression that makes sense only to those fluent in Hebrew. It means, translated literally, “save us!” And this “insider” word has historical roots, because 150 years before the crowds were shouting it to Jesus, they shouted this same word to the Maccabees, a Hebrew family who led a revolt against Rome and temporarily regained control over Jerusalem.

So the word “Hosanna” is loaded with meaning. And when the crowd shouts it to Jesus, we can imagine that they are anticipating something like a Maccabean revolt. They are looking for a savior to rescue Jerusalem from the power of Rome!

Throughout my time in ministry, one of the challenging discoveries I have made is that people often work against their own interests. This happens most often when we try to take matters into our own hands, often as a result of fear.

Think of the Pharisees. They believed that if they could obey the law to the letter, their perfect obedience would bring about the arrival of the Messiah, who would set God’s people free from the rule of conquering nations. So the oppressed others and themselves with a strict interpretation of the law, effectively enslaving themselves, so that they could one day be “free.” Meanwhile, they missed and rejected Jesus, who is the true source of freedom.

The Zealots had their daggers ready, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Messiah and the time when God would restore David’s throne. When the Messiah came on the back of a donkey (a symbol of peace) with instructions like “turn the other cheek,” they rejected him. He simply did not fit the understanding of a Messiah that they held.

For months, many people have been so obsessed with the need for things to return to “normal” that we have started actively working against ourselves. Rather than patience, we have persisted stubbornly. We have been so desperate for things to go back to “normal” that we have guaranteed that some things will never be normal again.

When we take matters into our own hands, we often undermine not only our own concerns and desires, but the movement of God in our midst.

The Pharisees and Zealots kept tight circles. Circles like this often become echo chambers, which convince us that if things are not going the way we collectively imagine they should go, everything is on the verge of collapse. If everything is on the verge of collapse, we must step in and take control in order to prevent that from happening. And because of the perceived urgency and desperation, God – who we otherwise know to be faithful – becomes an afterthought. No thought is given to his faithfulness or his ability to see us through difficulty. Instead, our focus shifts from the trust we should be placing in him to the need to do things ourselves. And the moment we do that, our trajectory is disastrous. We defeat ourselves.

This Palm Sunday, I am reminded of the need to rest in the God who provides and protects. I do not need to take matters into my own hands. God will be faithful. He always has been before.

And I do not need to operate out of fear. It is God who I trust, not my own efforts. I resist the urge to ask, “what if…” questions, and instead give myself over to the hope that I have in Jesus.

And I am reminded of my ongoing need to pray the prayer that Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
You are Holy, Lord! I exalt your name! I reside in your holiness!

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.
Bring to this earth the uncompromised order of your Heaven, Lord! And begin with me! Conform my life, my hope, my perspectives, my agendas, to you!

Give us this day our daily bread.
You are my portion – and I am sustained! Give us today the bread of your Kingdom!

And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
Make me an instrument of your love! Make me an instrument of your peace and forgiveness! Use me to bring freedom to those who are in bondage!

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
May you be the only desire of my heart, Lord! Let me not desire empires, power, prestige, or fame. Let me not be tempted to shape the world according to my expectations, but may I instead participate in bringing this world to the shape of your Kingdom.

 

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