Reading: John 12:12-19
We have journeyed through the Gospel of John and as we approach this Holy Week so too, in a couple of weeks’ time, we approach the ending of the Gospel. I would like to do something different this Palm Sunday. Instead of concentrating fully on the entering of the great city of Jerusalem I want us to use some of the knowledge we have learned about those disciples of Jesus who journeyed with him and are there during this week. Of course we cannot ignore the procession and the crowds but in many ways the crowds are the easy ones to see in the story. The other three gospels give more detail about the crowds who gather. Both Matthew and Mark write eleven verses to cover the event. Luke writes half that again as he pens sixteen verses. John on the other hand writes seven verses. The details of the crowd’s chants are consistent as each gospel writer has included details important to them and their gospel narrative. We all know of situations in life when it is the crowd, whether it’s a cheering, happy one, or an angry baying for blood one, who are visible and nobody is left in any doubt about their feelings. But I want to look at those who have been following Jesus closely over his three-year ministry.
When others have come and gone.
When others have despised and rejected him.
When others have come to him to get want they want from him and then standoff at a distance not wishing to become associated with him in public. I want to look behind the clamouring crowds. I want to look and see if we can sense the emotion away from the limelight. As Jesus moves into the city his closest friends are there too. These disciples have spent time with Jesus, getting to know him just as we spoke about last week, this has grown into friendship. More than the twelve named disciples called by Jesus have joined in following him as we read in John’s Gospel of others such as his good friends Mary and Martha, our reading mentions Lazarus. All in all, a very mixed grouping of people. As we look around ourselves today we may count ourselves as today’s disciples of Jesus, we too are a very mixed grouping of people. Jesus did not set out on his ministry as some sort of would be celebrity looking for some roadies to tag along and keep control of the on looking fans, or enemies for that matter. As he enters the city he is no politician on the great vote winning campaign trail. Jesus was a teacher looking for students, his invitation to ‘follow me’ was to make disciples of those who said yes. As we know, they were not always grade A material but they faithfully followed and listened even when their understanding was not as clear as it could have been they were teachable. Let’s look at what we know of his closest allies that day. Peter, had his moments didn’t always understand and sometimes acted rashly but he was rock-solid in his own way, later Jesus would name him as the rock upon which the church would be built.
Jesus recognised in him the kind of leader that others could lean on. Especially his brother Andrew of whom we don’t know much about. Sometimes in life we overcomplicate things, maybe he just wanted to go with his brother. John was more of a thinker than a man of action. He would be reminding the others of their message and mission to share the good news and the love of Jesus. Remember James and John asking questions about who would be the greatest and who would sit on the right and left hand sides. Poor Thomas is often cast as the one who is on the fringes of the group, slightly different from the others, he seems to question everything they tell him. We have spoken about him before and how his doubting image may turn into a positive attitude. He may be seen as someone who is asking the questions that others want to ask but do not wish to stand out in the face of the others. We all know somebody like Thomas who will ask a question or make a statement that everyone in the room wants to ask but shies away from and only later admits they wanted to say the very same thing. Judas Iscariot, a treasurer, someone you would like to think understood the value of things, especially money. Who would have believed that any of the group could sell a friend for a paltry 30 pieces of silver. Obviously such a mixed group, just as we are today, will have a plethora of ideas, emotions and thoughts, about the things of life which are valuable to us and the things in life which challenge us. We will agree and disagree as our understanding leads us. I wonder if Judas never fully considered that they would kill his friend. However long we spend considering things. However long we debate within our own minds about the consequences of what we are about to do. We never fully know how our actions will take on a life of their own and impact on the lives of others. Before we know where we are control of the situation has overtaken us and we are lead to place we had not planned to go.
Yet Jesus knew this entry into the city was the beginning of the end. Or did he know it was the end of the beginning? He knew that as the week drew to a close one of his own would betray him and hand him over to the authorities. In this day of celebration with the crowds, his nearest and dearest friends are in there, as we read in verse sixteen, ‘At first his disciples did not understand all this’. during this last week with Jesus, they may still be playing catch up with his teaching. This group who had accepted, ‘follow me’. His friends who stuck with him. The ones who shared as witnesses to his ministry and who would continue with their work when the Holy Spirit continues guiding them in that work. Palm Sunday, beginning of the end? Or the end of the beginning? The beginning of something new that only Easter can deliver.