Preparation, Parables, Palms

given on Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011

         The journey is almost over.  We are almost ready to head home but we are going to end our journey in Jerusalem during Passover.  Today is Palm Sunday that signals the beginning of Christians’ Holy Week.

With winter becoming just a memory and our spring break is over, we witness nature in all its glory as it bursts out in full bloom.  The flowers are out, the Bradford pears are already leafed out and the redbuds and dogwoods are blooming.  We are living in God’s kingdom right here on earth.

As we follow Jesus’ path down from Galilee, we realize that his 3.5 year ministry is coming to a close.  We already know the outcome of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on the back of a colt, with all those people lining the road waving palms.  We know that Jesus will end his life on earth by the end of the week.

We know that even though the disciples spent the 3.5 years learning what they were to do, they still did not know what was ahead.  In fact, in Matthew 13, the disciples had a question for Jesus:  “Why do you tell stories?”  Shouldn’t they have known what the stories meant?

Jesus’ ministry was 3.5 years of preparation for the disciples and those earliest believers.  The miracles, the healing, and the teaching were catching the attention of the people and the Pharisees and priests.  They were listening, but when Jesus answered the disciples’ question why he used the stories, which are parables, he once again shows his frustration in his answer to them.  Matthew’s gospel is echoed in Mark’s gospel in chapter 4:10-12:

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight.

Mark’s version continues with even the same concerns about eyes not seeing, ears not hearing, and then he explains a bit more about how the story works.  He continues showing the disciples how to teach about God’s kingdom telling them one story after another ending with this explanation from Mark 4:

30-32“How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

33-34With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

Looking back at Matthew 13 and the last two verses in today’s scripture listen to Jesus’ frustration:

16-17“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.

Are we like the disciples?  Are we listening with cotton in our ears?  Are we failing to see God’s kingdom right in front of us?  In one article which quoted a book, Christ’s Object Lessons (pp. 17-26), the reason Jesus used parables is explained:

  • Men could learn of the unknown through the known; heavenly things were revealed through the earthly; God was made manifest in the likeness of men.
  • . . . Natural things were the medium for the spiritual; the things of nature and the life-experience of His hearers were connected with the truths of the written word.  Leading thus from the natural to the spiritual kingdom, Christ’s parables are links in the chain of truth that unites man with God, and earth with heaven.
  • . . . In His teaching from nature, Christ was speaking of the things which His own hands had made, and which had qualities and powers the He Himself had imparted.  In their original perfection all created things were an expression of the thought of God.

Today as we travel along the paths that Jesus traveled, we look around at the trees, the fields, the river, the birds, the sunshine, the clouds, even the stars up on the mountains.  We witness God in each of his creations.  Jesus was trying to make sure that the disciples were prepared to continue his ministry and he was frustrated.

Today we may go through the Golden Gate of Jerusalem just like Jesus and his disciples did as Passover began, but there is no cheering crowd or kids waving palms.  Instead, we walk through a gate that has witnessed history for thousands of years.  We walk through a city that is as contemporary as any city here in our country.  We may go to the markets and look at all the foods and goods being offered by the local residents.  We may witness the other religions also visiting a holy site for different reasons than we do.

Are we so busy looking at what is going on that we fail to watch our path, look at the stones that make up the walls of the city.  As we tour the ancient city, the sounds of the modern city block us from hearing the stories of Jesus playing in our memory.  We are supposed to be disciples, aren’t we?

As we sit here learning more about Jesus’ ministry, we can draw a parallel between the disciples and us.  We need to hear the parables and understand them.  We need to make sure we have our eyes open and using our ears tuned to listen.  We must walk around our own communities seeing God’s kingdom.

The “Life Application Topic:  Sowing Seeds” in The Wesley Study Bible adds to our understanding of our discipleship:

Why is today’s harvest so poor?  Why does today’s harvest yield hunger, violence, and war?  We reap what we plant.  What seeds are we spreading around the world:  crass individualism, selfishness, irresponsibility, lack of accountability, oppressive power, our-way-or-no-way?  Those are the seeds some are planting.

Those questions certainly sound familiar.  We often stand around chatting with friends and co-workers griping and complaining about those same concerns.  Are we guilty of adding to those seeds, or are we listening to Jesus’ lessons and serving as disciples?

The application note continues with a plea to God worded as a prayer, still the words outline our challenge as today’s disciples:

O God, let the birds devour these seeds, let them be scorched by the sun, choked by the thorns.  Help us, loving God!  Help us to do whatever is needed so we can fill our sacks with seeds of justice, love, care, tenderness, reconciliation, and peace.  Only then will we be able to reap the abundance of life.

We are Jesus’ disciples today, Palm Sunday 2011, and we need to intentionally grow in our understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We must learn how to live a Christian life despite all the evil that exists around us.  We must learn how to share God’s love with others right now.

The 3.5 years of Jesus’ ministry is over and our spring break experience is coming to a close.  We have one more week before leaving Jerusalem.  We know how the story ended almost 2,000 years ago; but as we relive those final days of Jesus’ life on earth, let’s become intentional about our faith.

Today we celebrate though.  Today wave the palms and cheer each other on as we praise God for Jesus’ life on earth and the lessons he taught his chosen disciples and now teaches us through the words of the scriptures.

Dear All-knowing God,

We lift our palms to celebrate Jesus’ life on earth.

We smile and sing to share the joy we experience as Christians.

We join together to strengthen our faith so we can serve.


Help us to hear Jesus’ lessons in the parables .

Help us to see the glory of Your kingdom here on earth.

Help us to open our minds to fully understand our faith.


Thank you for teaching us about Jesus’ ministry,

Thank you for hearing our questions and giving us answers.

Thank you for a day of celebrating Jesus’ ministry.  –Amen

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