First Monday of Advent
November 28, 2011
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Matthew 21:1-5)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:10-11)
The story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem—what most Bibles title, “The Triumphal Entry”—always puzzles me. I think I understand why Jesus did what he did, because he was fulfilling Scripture but also giving the people a different image of their Messiah than they expected. What puzzles me is why the people were so excited at seeing Jesus riding on a donkey. Did they expect that the donkey would suddenly transform into a huge, sweaty stallion with flaring nostrils and iron hooves? And did they think that Jesus would morph into a muscular and deadly ninja who would slaughter the Romans right on the spot? I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
What is clear in the gospels is that the people did expect something from Jesus that was different than what he was offering. People loved his works of healing and deliverance, and marveled at his teachings. But they also wanted to see the kind of power that put Israel right back in the driver’s seat and ran the Romans back to Italy where they could get busy inventing pizza.
In the days of the early church, leaders like Peter had to keep reminding people about their identity as followers of Jesus. Like most of us, they were tempted to expect other things from Jesus than what he was offering. Peter has to remind them about their “election” (not the idea of being chosen at the exclusion of others, but being chosen for the benefit of the world) and that they are to order their lives around traits and values such as faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, mutual affection, and godliness. When people get off track, he says, they “stumble” into things that end up corrupting them.
In this beginning of the Advent season, it might be good for us to stop and consider what we’ve been expecting from Jesus as he comes to us. If we’re expecting prosperity, power, the baptizing of our political party, or anything other than the Jesus who draws us into the new reality of the kingdom of God, then we’ll stumble and experience the corruption that comes from being immersed in the wrong world.
In his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard John Neuhaus wrote,
“. . . In this life and in the world to come, those who follow Jesus will receive everything they want, if what they want is to follow Jesus.”