Story: Keep it Humble

April 2, 2023

Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 21:1-11

I imagine you have some idea of the story of the first Palm Sunday, probably because we just read the story. It’s been a year since the last one, though, so let me remind you of the basics. On Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples to borrow a donkey for him to ride. As the donkey walked up into the city with Jesus on its back, people waved tree branches – palms, for the most part, I guess – and put their cloaks on the road to soften the donkey’s feet, and shouted a welcome to Jesus that also begged him to save them. It was a big, noisy, spectacle.

One thing the gospels leave out, however, is what the disciples said to Jesus when he told them to get a donkey, and what they said to each other as they were going to get it.

Here’s what I imagine they said to each other.

“Well, we lost that argument.”

“Have you ever won an argument with Jesus?”

“Well, no. But I was hoping this was the first time.”

“I was rooting for you. I mean, you were absolutely right. We should get Jesus a horse.”

“He said no.”

“I know he said no. But can’t you imagine Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse? It would be so cool.”

“Everybody would cheer. And then they’d follow him. He’d look just like a Messiah on a horse.”

“Yeah. And look! There’s a horse!”

Now I imagine the two of them standing there, looking at the horse.

“What a great horse.”

“Very noble.”

“And… Jesus said no.”

“He did. We lost that argument.”

“Here’s the donkey he told us to find.”

The two of them looked at it.

“The horse was better.”

“The horse was a lot more impressive.”

“The horse was royal.

“He’ll look like just anybody on a donkey.”

“They might cheer anyway.”

“Let’s hope.”

“Why do you suppose he insisted on a donkey?”

“I don’t know. I mean, you’re a king on a horse. On a donkey, you’re just anybody.”

“A humble anybody.”

“Really humble.”

I’m not sure all that many people value humility these days. There weren’t a lot of people who valued it two thousand years ago. I think it’s worth pointing out, though, that one person who chose to be humble was… Jesus.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

When I tell the story, it’s from memory – I can’t quite resist improvising in the telling!

The image is L’ânon de Bethphagé (The Foal of Bethpage) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.191_PS2.jpg, Public Domain,

Queries and Questions

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?'” – Matthew 21:10

The whispers whip round the jam-packed streets –
Whispers? Well, no. The roar of the crowd
means a whisper is shouted, and may not be heard
by the hearer intended.

“Who is this?” they wonder, and some have their answers:
“He’s a healer,” say some, “with remarkable power.
So many return from him joyfully home!”
The sick cry “Hosanna! O save us!” today.

“Who is this?” they wonder, and some say, “A teacher,
a rabbi, a preacher with wonderful tales.
He’ll challenge you, certainly, if you are careless.
If you take time to listen, he’ll make you wise.”

“Who is this?” they wonder, and some say, “A monarch,
Messiah, Anointed One: he’ll free us from Rome.”
When they cry, “Hosanna!” it echoes with anger
and yearning for freedom from Empire’s yoke.

“Who is this?” they wonder, and some say, “A rebel,
a bringer of trouble, a sinner, a punk.
Just watch: all these people will raise swords tomorrow,
and on Tuesday the Romans will slaughter us all.”

“Who is this?” they wonder, and some have their answers.
“Who is this?” they ask and the rider is silent.
“Who is this?” they ask, little realizing the word
being spoken in silence on a donkey’s foal.

“Who is this?” they wonder, as the beast ambles on.
The Anointed One, yes, but the Humble One as well,
who would rule as a healer, and guide as a teacher,
but will save as One utterly faithful to God.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 21:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Sixth Sunday in Lent, Liturgy of the Palms.

The image is Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Master of San Baudelio de Berlanga (1125) – photographed by Zambonia 2011-09-29, Public Domain,

In the Throng

Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
– Psalm 118: 25-26a

Festival season. Who needs it?
The city packed with visitors
(Okay, the vintners and the innkeepers: they need it).
Just throngs of throngs of throngs.

The throngs are noisy, just not quite
this noisy. What’s amiss?
They’re piling up along the road
from Bethany toward the Temple gate.

Good heavens. Now the trees are waving
as they strip the branches down,
to lay them in the road. I see
the hues of cloaks and coats as well.

“Hosanna! Save us!” now they shout,
a cry both pious, quoting of the psalm,
and eminently timely in these times.
“Blessed is the one who comes!” – but who?

Oh, dear. This doesn’t look so great.
No horse. No guards. No retinue.
A dusty teacher on a colt,
escorted by rough peasants.

A glance to one side or the next
reveals that not all shout or celebrate.
The priests, the guards, the noble ones:
They watch with faces set and grim.

And I would make my way away
from this, for I have things to do
that will not muddle me in symbols
of revolt, of pitiful defiance,

Yet the throng still presses, holding me
in place to watch the colt’s slow steps,
to listen as they shout, “Hosanna,” and
to wonder if such saving could arrive.

I fear, however, that the only route
from this display leads not into a royal seat,
but to the tender mercies of
a Roman governor.

Such mercies are not tender, no.
Such mercies lead beyond the Temple’s court
to where the hill is crowned too oft
with human figures writhing on a cross.

I watch the colt-borne teacher ride away,
followed by the throng, releasing me
to find my path again. My road will be
much easier than his.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 11:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Sixth Sunday in Lent, Liturgy of the Palms. 

The image is Einzug Christi in Jerusalem by Wilhelm Morgner – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Go into the Village

Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied…”

Send me into the village, Jesus.
I’d really like something useful to do.
Hanging around you lately
has been something of a strain.

First we had those children bugging you –
well, us – and then you missed
the perfect chance to call a
wealthy ruler as disciple.

You might have promised we would have
a seat of power in glory, but…
we’re mighty low on dinners, Lord.
I’d even eat a camel.

I’m also less than charmed to hear
that God is like the sorriest
employer ever known, who pays
all workers just the same.

And then, sweet Jesus, you would go
and say that we are on our way
into this city so that we can watch
you die. I just can’t even.

So give me something useful I can do.
Amidst the cheers and hollers,
above the leafy carpet,
I still hear your words to James and John:

“You will indeed drink my cup.”

Ah, Jesus.

You didn’t mean a royal chalice, did you?

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 21:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Palm Sunday.

Painting by Lars Wikström/Ryttare (1800–1865) – Biblia Dalecarlica 1965, målat av Lars Ryttare 1830., Public Domain,

Holy Week 2019: Palm Sunday

Step. Step. Step. Step.
Along the road.
Down the hill.
Across the valley.
Up the hill.

I never wished
for an interesting life.

Led away today,
carrying a man.

Step. Step. Step. Step.
Along the road.

What’s all the noise?
The cloth is nice
beneath my hooves,
though frankly I don’t care.

Step. Step. Step. Step.
Down the hill.

I could walk this route
with my eyes shut.
I nearly am today.
Who wants a palm leaf in the eye?

Step. Step. Step. Step.
Across the valley.

I can’t help notice that
among the cheering crowd
are sour faces, but
I frankly don’t much care.

Step. Step. Step. Step.
Up the hill.

It’s funny, though.
This man does not
weigh much, in truth
and yet it seems he bears
the world upon his shoulders.

Better his than mine, of course.

Step. Step. Step. Step.

I wonder – who will lead
me home again?

The image is Einzug Christi in Jerusalem (1912), by Wilhelm Morgner – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,