Friday, March 30, 2012

A Palm Sunday Misconception

This Sunday is Palm Sunday for most Christian churches. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal approach to Jerusalem (sometimes mistakenly called his “triumphal entry,” but as the Gospel of Mark makes clear, Jesus only approached the city on Palm Sunday, delaying his actual “entry” into the city and the temple until the next day - see Mark 11:11ff.). This is the time of the year when pastors and preachers trot out their “fickle crowd sermons” in which they fulminate about the fickle and feckless crowds who gathered on Palm Sunday to hail Jesus as their king only to turn on him a week later and, complicit in his betrayal and execution, shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Problem is, while that might make for some passionate homiletical indignation in which the preacher berates the crowd for being feckless and mercurial, that’s not what the text of the Gospel of Mark says happened at all.

Mark makes it very clear that the crowd that hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday was not the same crowd that cried for his blood on Friday. In describing the Palm Sunday crowd, Mark 11:9 says, καὶ οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον· ὡσαννά· εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου·  “And those going before and those following cried, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord’” (my translation). The two Greek participles (οἱ προάγοντες καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες) clearly suggest that the crowd that cried “Hosanna!” was a group of fellow pilgrims; that is, it was a group of folk who were going before Jesus and following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Hence, they were not Jerusalemites; they were Galileans, same as Jesus.  This was a group of Galileans who, having witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard his preaching up in the Galilee, had come to believe that he was in fact the Messiah. And so when they approached the Holy City, cresting the Mount of Olives on that Palm Sunday, their emotions and aspirations just got the better of them and, seeing Jesus on the donkey fulfilling the promise of Zechariah 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,” they couldn’t help it. They just erupted into messianic mania: “Hosanna! Blessed is the One coming in the name of the Lord!”

The Jerusalemites, never having witnessed Jesus’ miracles or heard his preaching, and fancying themselves the “urban elite,” were much too sophisticated to fall for such a flimflam. “Just who does he think he is?” was their question of Jesus. “We’ve had messiahs come, and we’ve had messiahs go, and Jerusalem is still Jerusalem, and we are still in charge. You’re not in Podunk Hollow anymore, Jesus! You’re in our city now!” And so when the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin colluded and conspired to do away with him, the Jerusalem crowd was willingly complicit: “Crucify him!”

So spare us the sermons on fickleness and fecklessness this year, preachers. Please! That was not Mark’s point, and it shouldn’t be yours. The Galilean crowd, outsiders to establishment religion, shouted “Hosanna!” as the Messiah approached the city; the Jerusalem crowd, the cultural and religious elite, shouted “Crucify him!” as he tried to make himself at home. Surely there’s a sermon in there somewhere.


John King said...

Totally off topic, so just ignore me if uninterested in the topic. Having used the Greek New Testament by UBS, both the 3rd and 4th ediction (Critical text) for years, I always assumed that this critical text was supported by most Christians as the result of solid academic textual study. However, recently ran across the Greek Orthodox position that seems to support the Byzintine (sp) text type or the "received text" over the critical text that seems to rely more on the Alexandrian text type. Can you point me in the right direction? Is there recent published research in this area that is unbiased? Any suggestions or thoughts would be appreciated.

R. Wayne Stacy said...

It all comes down, John, as to whether or not you accept the basic principles of textual criticism which are; namely, two: (1) the earlier the manuscript, the more reliable it is; (2) there are proclivities of manuscript traditions or "families" (largely due to the patterns of copyists in that particular area) that make some manuscript traditions (Alexandrian, for example) more reliable than others (Byzantine). Of course, it is no surprise that the Greek Orthodox Church prefers the Byzantine family of manuscripts; they produced them! For the science of textual criticism, see Bruce M. Metzger's "The Text of the New Testament." Hope that helps! Ευλογίες, wayne

John King said...

Yes, I think you are right. I have read Metzger's book. It is very helpful. I have also read many arguments that does not support Metzger, however, most of it is just argument with what appears to be little actual research or evidence. Do you know of any research that would support a different perspective than Metzger?

R. Wayne Stacy said...

There is none. Those who argue against the validity of textual criticism do not argue on rational grounds.

John King said...

Wayne, thanks so much for your help. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.