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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-44

If I Were King!

President for a Day

What would you do if you ever became President of the United States for just one day? What bedroom of the White House would you like to sleep in? What proclamations would you issue? Would you take a trip to Camp David? Or spend the time on Air Force One? Would you throw a Grand Ball? While the opportunity of filling our country’s highest office for just one day may sound absurd, one relatively unknown man became President for a day. Most people have never heard the name David Rice Atchison, but he was president for just one day even through he was never elected by a popular vote.

Atchison was born in 1807 in Frogtown, KY, a little town in the mountains. His parents wanted him to enter the ministry, but after graduating from Transylvania University in Lexington, he studied law. He later moved to Missouri and was elected to the state legislature. He later became a circuit judge and at the age of 36, the governor appointed him to complete the term of a US senator who had died. He must have worked hard and displayed true gifts of leadership because the US Senate elected him president pro tempore (the presiding officer of the Senate when the vice president is absent).

In 1848, General Zachary Taylor was elected President of the United States. His inauguration was scheduled for Sunday, March 4. However, Taylor was a devout Episcopalian and refused to take the oath of office on a Sunday. This created a problem. President James K. Polk and the Vice President term of office expired at midnight, March 3. Since the new President would not take the oath for another day, Senator David Atchison, president of the Senate become President of the US for one day.[1]

Atchison’s one day in history was rather uneventful. He slept most of the day in his boarding house room. He left the Senate the following year and returned to farming in Missouri.

The Grand Parade

In today’s passage, we read about the story in which Jesus had the opportunity to serve as King for a day. In contrast to Atchison’s day, our Lord’s reign included a grand parade along with a spectacular display of human emotion and drama. Yet, as we review the story we will find some striking similarities.

It is the first day of the week, Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath and the day after his anointing by Mary at the home of Lazarus. Jesus has intentionally avoided any open or public recognition of his Messianic or Kingly title. He silenced the demons that said too much and after feeding the five thousand, he actually hid when the people tried to make him king. However, the time had now arrived to openly reveal that he is the long awaited Messiah.

Luke tells us that Jesus sends his disciples into a nearby town to get a colt that no one has ever ridden. The town of Bethany were Lazarus lived is located two miles west of Jerusalem, Bethphage, is between the two. The instructions to the disciples to get a colt are filled with Messianic symbolism. I wonder if the disciples understood what their master was saying.

The imagery goes all the way back to Genesis, to Jacob’s final blessings upon his 12 sons before he dies. The father of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher offers to each of his children his parting words. The elderly man stuns them by anointing Judah the fourth son with the blessing usually reserved for the eldest. He says to him

8    "Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
                        your father's sons will bow down to you.
9    You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches
                        and lies down, like a lioness-
                        -who dares to rouse him?
10    The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until
                        he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

 

Jacob promises that one day the 12 tribes will be united under one king and this kingship will pass from one generation to the next until finally the Messiah will come. Notice what Jacob says will happen until that time, vs 11, 12

11    He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch;

he will wash his garments in wine,

his robes in the blood of grapes.

12    His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

Until that time his donkey or colt will be tied and in waiting. The message is clear, there is no rush all the events are planned, and all will be in place when the day arrives. A colt that has never been ridden will be ready. The prophet Zechariah borrows on this symbolism and writes:

9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
    Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and having salvation,
    gentle and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech 9:9)

The prophet reminds the citizens of Jerusalem that their long expected King will come, riding on a donkey or colt.

I wonder if Jesus had arranged earlier in his ministry with a certain farmer to use one of his colts. Could he have anticipated the day when he would ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, not on the stead of a warhorse, but on the humble beast of burden?

Now I ask, if you were made king for a day would you come with power or humility?

With power or humility?

Power has many forms and many faces. There is the upfront, in your face type of power. It is physically intimidating. This expression of power is reserved for places like the hockey ring, the football field, or the streets of our drug infested cities. Jesus could have gathered a band of Jewish Zealots together to fight the Roman garrison. They would have given their lives for their country.

We are more familiar with a softer side of power. It does not seek it inflict physical harm but, it can be just as destructive. The soft side of power seeks to control and manipulate. It makes others feel guilty. It never gives an inch in a disagreement. It only understands win-lose solutions.

The soft side of power is just as destructive and harmful to family relationships and the body of Christ. Richard Foster explains that the band of 12 hand selected disciples provide us with a prefect model of abusive power. They were constantly arguing, constantly bickering—who would be first in line, which man would get the best seat. There arguments must have been intense for all four gospel writers recall them over 30 years later.[2]

Today in the church we do not argue about who will be first, but who will get their own way. Who will control the selection of songs and music for worship? Who will control how mission dollars will be spent? Who will control what educational material will be used in Sunday school? Who will control the design of a new building or addition?

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey he announced to the people of Israel that the power of his Kingly reign would be revealed through humility.

Vulnerably Victorious

According to Greek legend, Achilles was the mightiest of the Greek warriors in the siege of Troy. As an infant, his mother dipped him into the river Styx and thus rendered him invulnerable except at the spot were she had held him by the heel. Achilles had a premonition that if he went to Troy to bring back Helen for Agamemnon, he would be killed but he went anyway.

Jesus also knew that if he went to Jerusalem he would be killed but he too went anyway. But there is a striking difference between the two men. Achilles went to Troy seemingly invincible. Jesus entered the city of David “parading his vulnerability.” He did not have any bodyguards. There were no Secret Service agents to protect him. His disciples bore no weapons, or shields of armor. There he was nearly naked before his enemies. [3]

Throughout the Bible, we read about women and men who had to discover that the power of God was most appropriately displayed through vulnerability. Rebekah gave birth to twin boys—Esau and Jacob. When the boys were older, she used her power to manipulate her husband, Isaac into blessing the youngest, Jacob. Her maneuvering contributed to the break up of the family. Animosity between the two sons became so intense that Jacob had to run for his life. The relationship was not restored until Jacob was willing to become vulnerable before his brother.

When the mother of Moses placed her son in a basket and set it adrift on the Nile River, she discovered that that only way to save the life of her son was through her an act of vulnerability. Yet, when the boy became a man, Moses thought that he would set the world’s wrongs right by the use of his human power, so he murdered an Egyptian. He had to travel to the desert to learn that God could not use him to deliver the people of Israel until he was ready to be vulnerable before Pharaoh.

Consider how you approach relationships in your life. In your interactions with others, do you tend to dominate and control the conversations so that you can convince everyone to your opinions? Do you tend to manipulate circumstances so the outcome always aligns with your plans? Or are you willing to be vulnerable in how you approach others? Are you willing to allow others to see your weaknesses? Are you willing to allow others to hurt you?

The day that Jesus walked into Jerusalem, he did not try to control the circumstances. He did not try to dominate the religious leaders or the Roman government. He entered with a spirit of vulnerability.

I am in it now

The day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he not only displayed a remarkable quality of humility and vulnerability but he also showed an authentic understanding of who he was. He did not try to conceal his identity nor did he try to be someone he was not. He knew who he was and the difference his presence would make to the citizens of Jerusalem.

We need to ponder this matter of identity carefully. In our media driven culture people tend to swing to one of two extremes. They either become so obsessed with an inflated view of their own self -importance or they limp along crippled by the chains of insecurity. The latter can be just as damaging as the former. When we think too little of ourselves, we become hesitant about volunteering to serve. When we belittle our gifts, we become tentative about calling on a friend who is depressed or lonely. When we do not think that we can make a valuable contribution, we become reluctant to take on important responsibilities.

Years ago Charles Schulz gave Charlie Brown a baby sister. CB was elated but genuinely concerned about the terrible condition of the world that his new sister was entering. He began to share those concerns with his friend Linus. Before Charlie Brown got very far Linus interrupted his friend by saying “I think that the world is better than it was six years ago.”

Charlie Brown protested: “Don’t you read the papers, don’t you watch the television? How can you say the world is better today than six years ago?” To which Linus replied, “I’m in it now.”

Those words spoken in the wrong context might sound quite arrogant but Charles Schulz put some profound words of wisdom onto the lips of that blanket totting little boy. If each person were willing to truly live as a child of God, why wouldn’t the world be a better place because of our existence?

Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem knowing that his life would make a difference in the lives of each person. That sense of authenticity allowed him to walk with an inner confidence and self-assurance. Rather than become absorbed with his own self-importance, it allowed him to give his own life as a ransom for others. His sense of authenticity permitted him to endure the sting of a wipe, the piecing pain of a crown of thrones and the trauma of nail driven hands.

Queen for a Day

So what would you do if you were King or Queen for a day? Would you pass the day away with a cozy nap, alone in a boarding house unimpressed by the temporary title? Or would you prefer to issue some grand edict to eradicate an evil or injustice? Somewhere back in the far reaches of my memory I recall a TV show entitled, “Queen for a Day.” If memory serves me, some lucky woman was chosen Queen for a day and lavished with prizes. The format of the show reveals what some people would prefer to enjoy the material blessing that they think should accompany the title. Ironically, the day that Jesus was proclaimed King rather than issue any edict he entered the city with humility. Rather than demand obedience from the chief priests and Romans with the strength of a conquering army, he was accompanied by a ragtag group of fisherman, tax collectors and whores, exposing his own vulnerability. Rather, than enjoy the pleasures of the monarchy, he prepared for his own painful death.

Now consider, what would you do if you were King or Queen for a day?



[1] Glendon E. Harris, “Final Week in a Three Year Diary,” Pulpit Resource, Vol. 20, No. 2, April 12, 1992, 7,8

[2] Richard Foster, Money, Sex, and Power, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

[3] Glendon E. Harris, “Vulnerably Victorious,” Pulpit Resources, Vol. 10, No. 2, April 4, 1982, 2.

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