What Are You Doing?

Mark 11:1-11

Did you catch the questions in today’s reading? There are two: “why are you doing this?” and “What are you doing – untying the colt?” Actually it’s just one question. The first version of the question is Jesus preparing the disciples for the question that will be asked of them. He is telling the disciples to to go into a village and untie a colt, one that has never been ridden and Jesus anticipates that they will be questioned for their behavior. So he prepares them: If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ “  Sort of a permission slip, assuring the owners, “we’re just borrowing it for a little bit – Jesus said we could.”

So then, wouldn’t you know, they are asked the very question Jesus prepped them for: “What are you doing  – untying that colt?” and they explain and I guess everything is ok. Because they take the colt and that’s Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem.

Now, riding was a big deal in the first century simply because walking was the mode of transportation. Horses were used for battle, not for human transportation or agriculture, but only battle. So, for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! on a young male colt that has never been ridden sends a whole other message.  One that rings with this question: “What are you doing, Jesus?”

Faithful Jews were headed into Jerusalem in droves to celebrate Passover. So the roads into Jerusalem would have been teeming with people on foot, no safe personal bubbles around you. This annual pilgrimage to the Temple would not have been lost on the government. They would have been out in full array as well, in their own parade on the other side of town. They would not be riding colts but grand war horses, dressed for battle. The Roman Governor, Pilate, would have been in the parade. He was the king. It was the annual parade of intimidation. It was the annual parade to remind the people that while they were streaming into town to worship the one true God, they should remember just who could make or break them.

So of course Jesus is sure to emulate this parade, being seated upon a donkey as royalty but not dressed for war, not dressed to kill. This was his parade into the city where he would be killed.

What are you doing, Jesus?

Now, a visiting dignitary being welcomed into town with a parade on Passover would then go to the temple, just as Jesus did, and make a sacrifice. We’re not told that Pilate did this, but it was a common practice, for the Temple was the center of all of life in Jerusalem. So, this parade you and I are following ends at the temple. And what does Jesus do? Scripture says, Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  So, instead of making a sacrifice as was customary, Jesus acts like a tourist, taking a good look around, taking in all there was to see, and then, -yawn- heads to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, to hang out with his friends.

And it’s the very next day that he begins to tell stories against the Temple system, against the religious professionals, against the center of life and power in Jerusalem.

What are you doing, Jesus?

This is the week, folks. It’s holy week. The week we stagger toward the cross, following Jesus, asking again and again, what are you doing, Jesus?  Knowing how this story ends never stops me from asking this question. I always experience the anticipation of the story somehow changing, silently begging Jesus to speak up and defend himself or to find a better hiding place in the garden at Gethsemane. Do something, I implore. What are you doing, Jesus, I ask again and again.

Yet Jesus does not hide or open his mouth to defend himself. Instead, he prepares us for a life of following him – a life of discipleship. And that life is one of being questioned ourselves, “what are you doing?” Because following Jesus leads to behavior that ends up being questionable:

Following Jesus means loving your neighbor – even your non-Christian, bad-having, doesn’t-deserve-it, enemy-neighbor?  That one, too?

What are you doing?

Following Jesus means we jump into the parade of the unwanted, the unclean, the unpopular, and we’ve no time to worry about the parade of presidential hopefuls, because when we follow Jesus, we are certain of our leader.

What are you doing?

Yet even as we ask the question, in the next breath we shout out Hosanna! and we answer our own question. Hosanna means “save us.” And if Jesus is indeed set on walking from Palm Sunday straight into Holy Week, hearing our cries of “save us”, well then, he’s answering our question: he knows just what he’s doing.