Our Sovereign on a Donkey — Mk 11:1-11 — March 29 2015

Mk 11:1-11; ch 14-15; Zech 9:9; Isa 50:4-9a; Phil 2:5-11; Ps 118:1-2, 19-29

Our King on a Donkey — Palm Sunday 2015

According the the Harvard Business School, it is essential for a leader to behave like an extrovert, to speak and act self-confidently, assertively, and boldly.  Just like the high priests in one of our Gospel readings today (Mk chapter 14 to 15).  Self-confident, assertive, and bold.

To look at TV — say, the “Madmen” series, or the late night comedians, or most successful actors — one would think that it is surely the strongest, most attractive, best dressed, wittiest people who are the most influential.  Just like Herod in our Gospel reading today — strong, attractive, best dressed, and witty.

To look at the world — say the Al Saud family of Saudi Arabia, Stalin, or Hitler — sometimes it seems that the richest, most brutal people are the most influential.  We can compare them to Herod and Pilate in our Gospel reading today — rich and brutal.

Yet some of the greatest and most decisive leadership figures are or have been different from all that — they have been quiet, listening, questing, thoughtful, and humble people.  Louis V Gerstner, CEO of IBM from 1993 was a person who preferred working with small groups rather than speaking before large groups, and apparently most CEO’s are the same.  In the field of science, there is Marie Curie, for example, Alan Turing, and Time Magazine’s person of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein.  In politics, there is Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and Cyrus Vance.  There are many great musicians and artists.  They did not want public attention.  Susan Cain speaks about many more examples in her 2012 book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts”, and in her widely acclaimed TED presentation, The Power of Introverts.  You can Google that presentation http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts?language=en

There are some aspects of Jesus’ leadership that resonate with that same “power of introverts”.   In Mark’s Gospel (Mk 1:35) we read that he rose up way before dawn to pray.  We read in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus prayed deeply at key moments like the choice of the apostles (Lk 6:12-15) and Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46). We read in the Gospels that Jesus did not seek to be a superstar — by contrast with Julius Caesar, Jesus point blank refused to be made a king (John 6:15), and he refused an armed rebellion (in Mk 14:48). Many of Jesus’ parables and discourses are not as it were, “Press Releases” or the words of an actor or a demagogue.

No, not that: but rather, his words were often thoughtful responses to something said to him by an individual (like Nicodemus [John chapter 3], or the woman at the well [John chapter 4], or Peter, or Pilate [John 18:28-40]).  His parables and discourses and actions show a deep and amazingly wide familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures and with the inner life of the person before him.  His response to the devil during his temptation in the wilderness was framed in words from Deuteronomy ch 6 and 8 (Lk 4:1-13).  The Pharisees could not answer his questions to them about the scriptures. In what he said, Jesus had a turn of phrase that then at that time and still today catches “the listening ear” (Isa 50:4-9a).

In the ‘Triumphal Entry’ reading today (Mk 11:1-11), Jesus is acting out a verse from the Hebrew scriptures, Zechariah 9:9, which says that the Messiah would come humbly, seated upon the foal of an ass.  This is how Jesus wanted us all to understand the way he presented the nature of the Messiah — not a brutal, rich, swaggering, conquering general, but humble, and seated upon the foal of an ass.  The Romans ridiculed the early Christians for that very thing, and they portrayed Jesus as a donkey himself.  St. John described Jesus as ‘the lamb of God’, in another gentle, humble image.  Now, we could not imagine the great leaders of the world coming to the General Assembly of the United Nations riding upon humble donkeys, could we?

For Jesus to have ridden an unbroken foal reflects not only his humility, but it also reflects God’s control over nature, flowing through Jesus.  We see God’s control over nature also in the feeding of the 5000, in the calming of the storm, and in the walking on the water; we see it in the miraculous catch of fish, in healing people, in restoring sight to the blind, and in raising the dead to life.

From his baptism and temptation onward, Jesus was humble, meek, obedient to God, trusting in God, and loyal to God — all the way to the cross.  Just so, he calls us to follow him on that same path… and see the victory that God will bring, that no human can bring, but that God will bring in our own personal circumstances and in world history.

Do you yearn to be a great leader, self-confident, assertive, and bold?  — strong, attractive, best dressed, and witty? — rich and brutal?

Jesus  was none of those things. Palm Sunday calls us rather to follow him.  Let us pray that by the gift of the Holy Spirit God will help us become meek, obedient, trusting, loyal, and with a listening ear for the divine guidance (Isa 50:4-9a).  That we may hunger and thirst for righteousness, that God would make something of us, and that we may see God’s reign come.

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