A sermon for Palm Sunday by Nathan Nettleton
Public opinion polls reveal some strange things about the opinions of the mass population. Bill Clinton for example is under all sorts of pressure at the moment for the way he allegedly treats women and yet he is still riding high in the opinion polls. And that’s in America remember. Here in Australia a Prime Minister can admit to being an adulterer and survive. It is generally held that an American President could never get away with the same, and yet Bill Clinton still rides high. The analysts conclude that people would rather choose not to believe what they are hearing about him.
Now on April Fools Day an article appeared in the paper which had me sucked in for a while. It said that there had been a new allegation against Bill Clinton and that this time there was video footage from a security camera to prove the claim. And it said, Mr Clinton’s public approval rating had plummeted over night since the announcement of the existence of the tape. And before I discovered that I was being had I thought, “Well yeah, that would happen wouldn’t it. Those who chose not to believe can’t anymore. Suddenly public opinion deserts him.” Now I know that it was only an April Fools Day joke, but I reckon that bit of it was probably an accurate prediction of what the polls would do in such an event.
As some wise philosopher once said, “Today’s rooster is tomorrow’s feather duster.” One day you’re riding the crest of the public opinion wave; the next day the wave is well and truly broken and you’re the wipeout. Public opinion can be remarkably fickle. Just look at all the bandwagons rolling as the footy season starts. All eight teams who won in last weeks opening round all have hoards of supporters tipping them for the flag. But as the Coodabeen Champions’ special advisor on football spirituality, Guru Bob, once said, “Jumpeth not on the bandwagon if there’s a chance the wheels shall cometh off.” Public opinion is a fickle, fickle thing.
On Palm Sunday the Jesus bandwagon is well and truly rolling and everybody wants to be on it. It has rolled through the Judean countryside for weeks and weeks and now it is approaching the end of its journey – Jerusalem, the holy city, the seat of power, the place where the Messiah would establish himself and rid the nation of its oppressors. Jesus certainly hasn’t come out and said that he’s going to do that, but that’s the rumour, and by now he’s got enough enemies in Jerusalem that unless he’s planning something pretty big you’d reckon he’d know better than to walk in there.
But public opinion is on his side. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. The ticker tape is raining down. The people are singing and dancing and chanting “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” Placards are held high. Palm branches are waving. People are throwing their coats in front of him, and perhaps even the odd pair of knickers. Jesus is recording the highest opinion poll rating ever, knocking off even sliced bread, the automatic dishwasher, and Bananas in Pyjamas.
But public opinion is a fickle, fickle thing. As we shall hear again on Friday, just a few days later the cry of the crowd has become a snarling call for blood. “Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”
How could they be so fickle? How could they call for him to be crowned one day and crucified the next? Enthroned one day and electric chaired the next? Who are these people and how could they abandon him so easily?
Well we could go into all sorts of explanations about failed expectations, about how they had a certain sort of image in their minds about what sort of messiah they wanted and how they weren’t prepared to accept a messiah on different terms. We could go into details about the complex power play that was going on and the way public opinion was being manipulated. We could talk about the psychology of crowd behaviour and how people will get swept along in a mob mentality and do things that they would never do on their own with time to think about it. We could explore all these things and more and all of them would yield up valuable information, all of them would contribute to our knowledge of what happened back then and how and why.
But as illuminating as it might be, I don’t think we need to do that. If we really want to understand how these people could sing Jesus’ praises one day and call for his death the next, I don’t think we need to look any further than ourselves. The contents of our own hearts and the quality of our own behaviour. You see, my guess is that most of you are not that different from me, and I know a little of what I’m capable of.
I know that I can stand in here and sing praises to Jesus one day, and walk by on the other side of the road as he lies in a gutter the next.
I know that I can be lost in wonder and praise at the gracious mercy of God one day, and then turn around and make the most callous judgment of someone the next day, just writing them off, rejecting them entirely without showing any sign that the grace I have been shown has begun to rub off on me.
I know that some days I can sing in here “Brother, sister let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you,” and then walk out and treat you as though I was born to rule and you’re lucky to have me in your company.
And I don’t think I’m alone. You see it’s easy to cheer for Jesus, to wave palm branches and to sing praises in the gathered assembly. It’s not difficult to join in the singing here each Sunday morning and honour Jesus as Messiah and King of the Universe. But there’s a lot more to following Jesus than just cheering from the sidelines.
What do those praises mean when you’re behind closed doors and away from the public eye? You can sing in here “I want you more than gold or silver,” but how do those words affect you when you get to work and love and justice don’t turn a profit or put you in line for a promotion? Do you honour him with your actions or capitulate and crucify him? What do all the words of commitment mean when it comes to working out how you commit your time and your money? What do those words mean when you find yourself in a group of sophisticated and successful people who are discussing what a loser and a fraud Jesus Christ was and how his followers have only ever caused misery and bigotry in the world? Do you praise him with your lips or crucify him with your compliant silence?
How could the crowds be so fickle? How could they cheer for Jesus one day and call for his blood the next? Perhaps they were just like us.
It’s a sobering realization, but don’t despair. This is not the end of the story. On Thursday night we’ll pick up the story again and follow what happens to Jesus and to this people just like us. We’ll hear of him kneeling at the feet of people just like us and washing our feet and promising us that we’ll be a part of him. And on Friday we’ll look in horror at the extent of what people people just like us can do and we’ll hear him say for us, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” And by Sunday, who knows what we might become?!!