As we are all staying at home during COVID-19, Knox is providing podcast services. Not everyone can access these, though, so we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my notes into text for the blog. — (Rev) Andrew Jensen
Less Is More
Readings: Matthew 21:1-11
I chose the title “Less Is More” advisedly.
Sometimes you just want more.
I personally want more time: time to dive into the week between Palm Sunday – the Triumphal Entry and Easter, seven days later.
Jesus packed so much into that week.
First, he rode into Jerusalem in a manner designed to make people remember prophesies and frankly, designed to catch the attention of the Romans.
Later that day he cleared the temple in a manner worthy of the most bad-tempered prophet and stirred up a nest of resentment in the religious authorities; especially those who worried Romans might disrupt the temple if too much unrest were allowed to happen.
Then Jesus left town while people whispered about who he was and what he might be doing.
The next few days were filled with profound teachings and memorable lessons. And to cap it all off there is Passover, and Jesus arranges what we now call the Last Supper while plans are already moving to betray him, to arrest him.
Jesus ends up at the garden of Gethsemane where he suffers an agony in prayer, wondering if he can go through with his plan. His closest friends fall asleep; he is arrested, then interrogated, then tortured. Not for information, but to warn witnesses that this is what Rome does to troublemakers. Then he is denied by Peter, his most impulsive, boastful follower and he is abandoned by the others.
And then put on the cross to die.
And he does die. And it’s only Friday of that amazing week. Ultimately, he is raised from death on the Sunday – a miracle witnessed first by the women who were his friends, because the men were all in hiding.
Yes, I want more. There is so much to explore here!
Jesus carried a particular message into this week. He started with the triumphal entry itself and that message is “Less Is More”. Not as some kind of Marie Kondo decluttering mantra, but as a deep message to cap what he had said all along.
In Matthew’s gospel we have the Sermon on the Mount, a marvellous summary of Jesus’ teachings. He starts with the beatitudes; explaining how the first will be last and those considered the most pitiful are actually the most blessed.
He proclaims this over and over. With the Triumphal Entry, he puts his money where his mouth is! He rides into town as a king but he rides a donkey, not a war horse. He chooses a method that will be recognized by people familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures – there will be no mistaking his claim of kingship. He comes empty handed: no treasures; no weapons; no army. He doesn’t even own the donkey -it’s borrowed!
Jesus is very clever. And he expects the people who watch his prophetic message unfold to be clever too. He expects them to see the contrasts; the irony of a king coming in weakness. Proclaiming in an authoritative voice what God wants. And bringing no means to enforce it.
And what follows is an unfolding of this same message:
Jesus does things that get attention; that bring a real public focus on what he says and does. And then he confronts the power of Imperial Rome and the convoluted politics of Jerusalem’s rulers and priests – with NOTHING.
He is alone, utterly vulnerable, and his message doesn’t change at all: the power of this world is nothing to God. God can use weakness to overcome power.
And Jesus dies a shameful death on the cross to prove it.
It’s like he left them with no choice. In the walking of the donkey and the waving of the branches; in the shouts of Hosanna! Save Us! The powers that be had to respond. And they responded in the only way they knew how: with brutality.
Jesus set this up so that his ultimate lesson could not be missed. He did what some of God’s best prophets had already done. He turned his own life into the message – and his death became his most powerful moment.
It didn’t stop there – even his grave was borrowed.
He challenged the idea that God helps those who help themselves. Instead of self-centredness, he offered up self-sacrifice. Instead of the complications of wisdom, he offered the simplicity of a child. Instead of a rigid set of laws and rules, he offered the law of love.
Jesus did all of this 2000 years ago. And we are still sorting out what it all means, and how it all works.
And I want more. But Jesus calls me to embrace less.
It’s not exactly simplicity. There’s nothing simple about that king riding a donkey claiming the right to the throne of David. Claiming the legacy of Israel’s most celebrated king without any way to enforce that claim.
There’s nothing simple about that at all. And Jesus knew it. He knew what he was doing as he started the events of his last week into motion on Palm Sunday.
As we go into this next week, with more time on our hands than we would like and more constraints on our lives than are comfortable, let us consider, in our newly discovered vulnerability, the truth of Jesus’ message: the way he was able to use weakness to change the world, transforming people’s hearts more effectively than any army ever could.
Let us find in our weakness, new strength. Perhaps coming in unexpected ways: in the people who reach out to us, in the people we try to touch while remaining at a safe distance.
It’s a familiar sounding irony and it challenges us, which is good. Because it is when we are challenged that we discover truths we might not have seen any other way.
Jesus challenged the world, riding on a donkey all the way to the cross. And finally, to resurrection. He challenged us all to a new understanding of how God works.
May we be open, during the challenges we face this Spring, to discover truths about God and how God works through us and others.
Truths that help us grow into better people.