The Wrong Crowd

Scripture:  Mark 11:1-11

Mark Twain, who can always be counted on for a good quip, once said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  If that was true in the 19th century when worldwide communication was a lot slower than it is now, then it is doubly true today.  The truth of Twain’s observation is why misinformation is such a pressing problem in today’s world.  However, it has always been a bit of a problem.  There might be a lot of misinformation and ill-informed conspiracy theories floating out there today but history is full of misconceptions that have been accepted as truth.   For example, even to this day French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte is depicted as being short.   He was not though.  He was actually right at average height for the time.  Depicting him as short is what British propaganda did, and two centuries later the propaganda still has influence.   Some of these misconceptions do not arise from people purposely misconstruing the facts, but just misunderstanding them.  For instance, Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the light bulb.  That is not true.  Light bulbs existed for years before Edison.  Edison invented the Incandescent light bulb which is the first time an electronic light source was long lasting enough to be economically viable.

Then some misconceptions spread and propagate because the story is just too good not to repeat.  A good example of this that you might have heard is that famed physicist Albert Einstein once failed math while in school.  This is 100% not true.  In fact, this story started during Einstein’s lifetime and he refuted it-pointing out in an interview he was doing advanced calculus at the age of fifteen.  This story originated from a Ripley’s Believe it or Not blurb.  It seems to be based off a half truth that Einstein did fail an entrance exam for an elite French school.  However, this has more to do with the fact that Einstein took the exam two years earlier that was common, and the exam was in French-a language Einstein was not fluent in.  He scored high on the math portion of the test, but he did not get a high enough score on the parts that required reading and writing in French. The idea that arguably one of the smartest people in history struggled in school is a story we want to believe even if there is no truth to it, so the story keeps getting shared.

Our faith and the bible is not immune to similar misconceptions, and one of those misconceptions surrounds this morning’s scripture.  We read the version of the story from Mark’s gospel, but the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry appears in all four gospels.  We remember this day every year on what we call Palm Sunday.  Given that it makes sense that songs have been written especially for this day.  Our United Methodist hymnal contains four Palm Sunday hymns.  One is a Spanish hymn, so that one gets sung less frequently.  The other three are Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, Hosanna Loud Hosanna, and All Glory Laud and Honor.

All three of these hymns have different authors, yet they all share one common detail.  The third verse of Tell Me the Stories of Jesus states “Into the city I’d follow the children’s band; waving a branch of the palm tree high in my hand. “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna the little children sang” is how Hosanna loud Hosanna begins.   Finally the chorus of All Glory Laud and Honor is “All Glory Laud and honor to thee Redeemer, King to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.”

All three of the most well-known Palm Sunday hymns feature the image of children waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna.  Yet, not a single gospel account mentions children anywhere during the triumphal entry.  Now of course children could have been present, but the gospels do not give us the same image of a “Children’s band” escorting Jesus in a jubilant parade that the hymns paint.  This image seems to endure, because like the story of Einstein we just like it too much not to keep perpetuating it.  It could also be that we just find the idea of a bunch of innocent children welcoming Jesus to be more comfortable image than the crowed that actually welcomed Jesus.  On Palm Sunday it was not a “children’s band” that waved palm branches.   Many of the crowd that welcomed Jesus on that day were radicals, revolutionaries, and other undesirables on the fringe of respectable society.  These are the people that welcomed Jesus, and these are the kinds of people that Jesus still welcomes.

In First Century Israel the air was ripe with messianic expectation.  Judea had been a Roman province for close to a century by the time Jesus entered into the temple on a donkey.   During those decades, the people of Israel grew in hope that the messianic prophecies of the prophets would be fulfilled.  They looked with expectation for a messiah to come and deliver them.   A number of traditions had grown up among these prophecies.  During this time, tradition had formed around the prophecy from Zechariah as well as other Messianic scriptures.   Many thought that the Messiah would come during one of the high holy days like Passover, and tradition had come to believe that when the Messiah rode into Jerusalem on a donkey they would come in via the Sheshun gate into the temple.

It was the tradition that at the beginning of Passover, many people had gathered by the Sheshun gate, just in case this was the year when the Messiah might actually come.   These people were zealots, Jews who actively wanted to see the Roman Empire overthrown and Israel become independent again.   Palm branches were a symbol adopted by the zealots that represented Jewish sovereignty.  This is also why they shouted Hosanna, roughly translated means “Please save us”, and finds its roots in Psalm 18.   Like the palm branch, this is a phrase that was adapted by the zealots.   It was their rallying cry, it was their political marketing slogan.   It was not a band of wide-eyed, innocent children that greeted Jesus and waved palm branches it was group of rebels.

The other group that primarily made up the crowd were the disciples of Jesus.  While this group may not have been political revolutionaries, they were no less rebellious.  As far as the good religious people of the day were concerned they were upstarts.  They followed a rabbi who had come into conflict with the religious leaders and with the Pharisees on multiple occasions.   Among the elite of the time, Jesus did not have the best reputation and that would have extended to his followers as well.  The vast majority were also from Galilee, which would have been viewed as the redneck area of first century Israel.  The disciples likely would have also have been viewed as rebels because they followed a teacher who challenged and disrespected the traditions and the way things have always been.


Jesus was greeted by a group of rebels, and during the triumphal entry they hailed as a coming king.  They saw that Jesus could overturn the way things were and bring about real change.   They thought he might be the messiah to bring freedom from oppression.  The zealots were ultimately disappointed. They were wanting a political insurrection, and that was the not the kind of rebellion that Jesus was leading.  At the time of this morning’s scripture the disciples had not figure it out, but Make no mistake:  Jesus is leading a rebellion.  It is a rebellion against the oppression of sin and darkness, it is a rebellion of grace against legalism, and it is a rebellion of love against hate.   It is a rebellion built on hope.   Jesus is Lord has always been a rebellious statement.  If we live it out seriously, it is still a rebellious statement.  Rebellion is an act that subverts the status quo, the way things are, in order to change it to something else.   The world we live in is broken and fallen, and any act as Christ followers we take to shine light or fix it is going to be perceived as upsetting the status quo.  If we are doing it right, then someone will see it as being rebellious.

This has always been the case.  When we look at our history, at the Christians who made real and lasting differences in the world, they were always accused of being the wrong crowd.   I think of Richard Rust, a lifelong Methodist and academic who was dedicated to the ideals of anti-slavery and abolition.  In the first third of the 19th century he was an early voice on the issue, and as such he drew a lot of opposition and met violence more than once.  Yet out of Christian conviction he persisted.   He helped found and lead multiple historically black colleges as a way to provide educational opportunity to the people of color that had been denied it.   He also found the freedmen’s aid society to provide supplies, education, and housing for freed slaves in the south.  Rust dedicated his life to the idea abolition and equity, and many of the people of his time considered him to be the wrong crowd.

I am reminded of Jessie Daniel Ames, another Methodist, whose Christian faith also led her to advocate for equality for all.   She worked with numerous Methodist women’s groups in southern states and organized them to participate in the women’s suffrage movement.   After the 19th amendment was passed, Ames turned her attention to another issue that deeply bothered her and that was the ongoing number of lynchings that were happening, especially in Southern states.   Ames was the founding organizer for the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.  She gained the support and signatures of over 40,000 women opposed to these horrid actions and her actions are credited for in part helping lead to a decline in these murders over the 1930s and 1940s.   In her advocacy work she faced threats and violence.   She was called all kinds of names and she was considered to be the wrong crowd.

I am reminded of Rev. Ed King, and ordained Methodist pastor.   As the chaplain of Tougaloo College King worked with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the NAACP to be part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.   He participated in the Jackson Woolworth’s sit-in of 1963 and the Freedom Summer project of 1964.  He has been described as “the most visible white activist in the Mississippi movement.”  During civil rights protest he would often wear his clergy collar and put himself between black students and the people who meant to do them harm.  Again, it was out of Christian conviction that Ed King took these actions, and once again many people considered him to be the wrong crowd.

Often when there is a push for positive social change, there are Christians on the forefront.  The reason why these Christians take these kind of stands is because they take seriously the command of Jesus Christ to love your neighbor as yourself.  They take seriously the call to love the least of these.  In all of these instances Christians were some of the leaders pushing for change, and they were often viewed as rebels, and they were often considered the wrong crowd.   Today, there are still followers of Jesus who are advocating for those on the margins, who are fighting for the protection of all, an who’s motivation is to follow Jesus by making the world a more kind and loving place.  On palm Sunday Jesus was welcomed by the wrong crowd, and to this very day seeking to follow Jesus faithfully will still get people labeled as the wrong crowd.

When Jesus declared himself to be the messiah he was surrounded by a bunch of rebels, by a ragtag group of radicals.  He was welcomed by the wrong crowd- and for good reason.  He was at the forefront of an insurrection of grace.  Jesus intentionally came to upset the status quo, and the followers of Jesus should still be doing this.   When Jesus declared himself to be Messiah, the zealots shouted “Hosanna”-please save us.  Friends, we’ve seen the end of the script we know what is coming.  Jesus does indeed save us   Jesus brings about a spiritual reality of radical love, acceptance and equity.   Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but may we join him in our actions and service of others to make the love of God know, to fully accept all people, and proclaim that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.   May we proclaim Jesus as king, and join in the work of building his kingdom here.

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