(C) 2003, Don Mize
A 6 September 1999 Time article discussed how, in 1999, risk-taking seemed to be sweeping America. Entitled “Adventure: Life on the Edge,” the article focused on extreme sports, owning stocks, changing jobs on a whim, and how more people sought high-risk jobs. The theory floated was that life had become too prosperous and thus too dull. People craved risks.
Jesus took an extreme risk the day he rode a donkey into Jerusalem. No more dramatic moment ever occurred in history, but we miss the symbolism. He came loudly, amid cheers, throwing down a challenge to the political-religious authorities of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-17). Like an Old Testament prophet, he acted out a message, giving dramatic form to ignored words (1Kings.11:29-32; Jeremiah.28:10-11).
We are, of course, familiar with dramatic moments. We see dramatic moments created for television by protest marches and die-ins. Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, turned the European theater of the late 1800s from a distraction for the bored into an existential encounter. He took as his characters ordinary, middle class people and stripped away layer after layer of hypocrisy until he created a stark encounter with one’s self. In A Doll’s House, when Nora leaves her hypocritical banker husband and her children, the play ends with a door slamming, creating a moment of self-encounter for each person in the audience.
Jesus creates such a soul-searching moment for each person who sees him enter Jerusalem. He is acting out scenes from the past that are full of symbolism. About 175 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes (or Epimanes) conquered Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple. When the Maccabees recaptured the city and restored the desecrated Temple, great rejoicing occurred. In II Maccabees 10:7, we read how the crowds took palm branches and sang psalms in celebration. Jesus completed the symbolic act by going to the temple and throwing out the merchants who desecrated the house of prayer by making it a den of thieves (Matthew 21: 12-13).
Jesus is also acting out a vision of hope recorded in the collection of prophecies known as Zechariah. Zechariah had the vision of the Messiah coming in peace (Zechariah 9:9). When a king came in peace, he rode a donkey rather than a war horse. Spreading their cloaks and branches before him, singing praises to God, the people greeted him as they would greet a king entering the city. Jesus created a dramatic moment that confronted the religious-political authorities with his claim to be the Messiah. They must decide.
The Harvard Business Review of 1 September 1998 contained an interesting article, “The Hidden Traps in Decision Making.” Written by John S. Hammond and Ralph L. Keeney, the writers list ways of thinking that can lead to bad decisions: we can prefer the status quo; we can ask the wrong questions; we can limit our solutions; we can try to protect our previous investment; we can find the evidence we expect to find; and we can forecast the future in such a way as to prevent a good decision in the present. In many ways, the religious-political leaders who rejected Jesus made all those mistakes.
Perhaps the great mistake was to prefer the status quo. They had
power, position, and a working relationship with the Roman authorities.
Jesus threatened all that because they failed to understand him as spiritual
king rather than King of Jerusalem. The day Jesus rode a donkey into
Jerusalem, he stripped away the layers of hypocrisy. If we listen
carefully, we can hear the door slamming shut behind him.