Bible Study 3.19.12, 3.22.12, 3.25.12 For Worship 4.1.12

Bible Study 3.19.12, 3.22.12, 3.25.12 For Worship 4.1.12

Mark 11:1-11

Mark 11:1 And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples,

2 and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it.

3 If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'”

4 And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it.

5 And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”

6 And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go.

7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it.

8 And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.

9 And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

11 And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

COMMENTARY

The Romans and the Chief Priest were in charge in Jerusalem, and Jesus came to town to challenge them. Like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, Jesus knew he needed large numbers of supporters in a public demonstration or he would be marginalized maybe even eliminated his first day in town. So he planned a demonstration.

Reading the gospel accounts Palm Sunday sounds like a spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm for Jesus. Certainly there were many people who joined in the demonstration spontaneously, but careful thought and planning had been put into the event. Bethphage and Bethany were small villages on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives. Jesus had several supporters in these villages including Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. To evade arrest, from Sunday through Wednesday Jesus left Jerusalem and spent the night in at different undisclosed locations on the Mt. of Olives, so we know he had many supporters in these villages.

Jesus had arranged for a donkey to be available in an attempt to emulate Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.

Note how the Zechariah passage not only mentions the donkey, but the word humble is used to describe the Messiah. The Messiah commands “peace to the nations.” And the curious phrases are used: “the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free. . .” No wonder the early church was attracted to the Zechariah passage to describe the Palm Sunday demonstration accompanying Jesus’ entry into the City.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan also claim that the demonstration accompanying Jesus into the eastern gate of the City was timed to match a militaristic parade at the Jaffa Gate on the western side of the City consisting of the Governor Pilate leading a squadron of Roman Calvary from Caesarea into Jerusalem to keep order during the Passover. This might suggest that not only had Jesus come to town to challenge the Temple authorities but also the Romans, and this would explain why later in the week Pilate did not hesitate to sign the order to crucify Jesus.

In case anyone doubts Jesus’ intention look at what the crowds were chanting: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the kingdom of our Father David that is coming!” This was not good news to the Romans. If the crowds were ready to re-establish the kingdom of our Father David, the Romans would have to go. In addition the Temple would lose the favored position it enjoyed under the peculiar arrangements of the Roman Occupation. The Romans kept order, and the Temple collected their taxes, and they also participated in foreclosing on peasant who had been taxed into debt, and pushed them off of their land. The High priestly families, then collected the foreclosed upon peasant holdings and incorporated them into huge landed estates, hiring back a few of the peasants as impoverished day laborers. The economic oppression of the system was grinding the vast majority of the population into poverty, while a privileged few profited.

Some scholars might be so bold as to compare the situation in First Century Israel to the economic unrest that has fueled the Occupy Movement. We might even go back and look at Palm Sunday as the first demonstration in the Occupy Jerusalem movement. Like the Occupy Movement today, Jesus was leading a largely non-violent movement. When he overturned the tables of the money changers, no one was killed or seriously injured. John Dominic Crossan points to the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate as the best interpretation of Jesus’ intention as a pacifist agitator:

The foremost historical Jesus scholar alive today, John Dominic Crossan, gives a single powerful example of the nonviolence of Jesus. In what he calls a “magnificently parabolic scene” in John’s gospel, Pilate confronts Jesus about the kingdom of God. “My kingdom” (replies Jesus in the King James Version), is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my followers fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now is my kingdom not from hence” (18:36 KJV).

Crossan draws five foundational insights from this single event. First, that Jesus does indeed make a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of “this world.” This difference is still painfully obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Second, Jesus is “condemned to death by Pilate, who is Roman, in Roman Judea, in the eastern reaches of the roman Empire. But he never mentions Rome as such, and he never addressed Pilate by name. Third, had Jesus stopped after saying that ‘my kingdom is not of this world,’ as we so often do in quoting him, that ‘of’ would be utterly ambiguous.” Crossan goes on:

“’Not of this world’ could mean: never on earth, but always in heaven; or not now in present time, but off in the imminent or distant future; or not a matter of the exterior world, but of the interior life alone. Jesus spoils all of these misinterpretations by continuing with this: ‘if my kingdom were of this world, then would my followers fight, that I should not be delivered’ up to execution. Your soldiers hold me, Pilate, but my companions will not attack you even to save me from death. Your Roman Empire, Pilate, is based on the injustice of violence, but my divine kingdom is based on the justice of nonviolence.’

Fourth, Crossan argues that the crucial difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome is that one is nonviolent and the other is not. “This world” refers to the violent normalcy of civilization itself under Roman rule in the first century – to the way things got done and life is ordered. Fifth, Crossan argues that Pilate is the most important interpreter of Jesus in the entire New Testament. He knows the difference between Barabbas and Jesus. As Crossan points out, “Barabbas is a violent revolutionary who ‘was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection’ (Mark 15:7). Pilate arrested Barabbas along with those of his followers he could capture. But Jesus is a non-violent revolutionary, so Pilate has made no attempt to round up his companions. Both Barabbas and Jesus oppose Roman injustice in the Jewish homeland, but Pilate knows exactly and correctly how to calibrate their divergent oppositions. (pages 96-97 The Underground Church, by Robin Meyers)

Can non-violent revolutions actually succeed? The velvet revolutions of Eastern Europe, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Fall of the Soviet Empire, the Fall of Hosni Mubarek, suggest it might be possible. On the other hand, Muamar Qadaffi, didn’t go quietly. The Syrian Regime is violently suppressing the rebellion in their nation. The Romans were afraid enough of Jesus to crucify him.

Should the followers of Jesus support the protests over economic injustice in our world today or should the church preach that people should shut-up, work hard, and trust in free enterprise? Should the followers of Jesus join the Occupy movement, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Temple? If the church decides to join the side of the oppressed, there will probably be a price to pay. But what is the price of taking the side of wealth and power? What would Jesus do?

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. From what direction did Jesus and his followers approach Jerusalem?

2. Where were Bethphage and Bethany located?

3. When Jesus sent a couple of disciples ahead of the procession, what were they supposed to look for?

4. What were they supposed to tell the owner?

5. What did Jesus do with the animal?

6. Upon seeing Jesus approaching the City, what did the crowds do?

7. What were the crowds chanting?

8. According to Mark when Jesus enters the Temple on Sunday what did he do?

9. According to the other gospels what did Jesus do in the Temple on Palm Sunday?

10. What prophet did the early church use to describe the events of Palm Sunday?

11. What other images did that prophet invoke that might used to describe events during Holy Week?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Do you think Palm Sunday was planned or a purely spontaneous event?

2. What do you think Jesus was trying to accomplish on Palm Sunday?

3. Do you think the early church was accurate in referencing Zechariah 9 in relationship to the Palm Sunday event?

4. Do you think the chants of the crowds supported the overthrow of the Romans?

5. Do you think the Romans should have been afraid of the Jesus movement?

6. What do you think of John Dominic Crossan’s observations about Jesus and Pilate?

7. Do you think Jesus was purely non-violent?

8. Do you think non-violence works?

9. In a world experiencing unrest over economic issues, do you think the church has any good news to preach and to whom?

10. What do you think of the Occupy Movement?

11. Do you think the followers of Jesus can play a role in bringing greater peace and justice to the world?

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