by Sheila Hamil
I’d like to share a light-hearted drama recording with you, which I wrote some years ago for family worship, in order to set the scene, and to focus upon Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It’s based upon readings, from both St Matthew and St John’s gospels, and is entitled ‘Radio Jerusalem’.
Kevin Archer a friend of mine, at LCB radio, North Northumberland, helped provide most of the voices.
Do you ever remember being given a thin red cellophane fish as a child, which when placed upon your palm, moved and changed shape, supposedly to reveal your true character? Well this wasn’t magic or fortune telling, there was a very simple scientific solution behind this trick, to do with a chemical called,‘ sodium polyacrylate’, a salt, which could grab and absorb moisture, such as the sweat on your hands; and it was this process which changed the shape of the fish.
But we were all utterly fascinated by this, as young children.
If the fish moved its head you were a jealous person
If it moved its tail: you were indifferent
If it moves its head and tail: you were in love
If it curled up entirely you were said to be passionate
But if its sides curled: you were fickle! Now there a strange word, which we’ll be looking at today!
Of course, if the fish didn’t move at all: you were either tired, or dead!
What does fickle mean then?
Let me tell you about two friends in Junior school, who were much closer to each other, than they were to me, as they travelled home together, and so quite often I didn’t know whether they were going to be my friends, or not. One of them wasn’t speaking to me for some reason, so I brought in a photo of her pop idol, Elvis Presley, and I placed it inside her desk. When she came into the classroom and opened the lid; she asked, “Who put this picture of Elvis in my desk.” I put my hand up, and replied, “I did!”
“Right,” she said, “we’re friends again!”
I was ever so grateful!
Fickle means to be changeable, unreliable, forever blowing hot and cold.
Fickle is a word that sums up the very nature of the crowd that welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, on the day we now call Palm Sunday. The crowds that day were jubilant and went wild with excitement, that at last their King had come, and was declaring himself openly, as he processed into the city in view of everyone there. But by the end of that week, they were quite the opposite, demanding the death penalty for him, crying out ‘Crucify him!
On the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day, the city was crowded with pilgrims; all geared up and ready to celebrate the greatest of their national festivals; it was Passover week; and every adult male within 20 miles of Jerusalem was expected to be there, as well as Jews from many other parts of the world. And what a welcome they gave Jesus, as he rode in through the eastern gate, on a donkey, on a colt that had never been ridden before, according to St Matthew.
There’s a sacred symbolism here that the crowd may not have understood at the time, for the Ark of the Covenant, sacred as it was, had been carried on a cart which had never been used before, (1 Sam 6:7) and animals for the holy sacrifice were those that had never before been yoked. (Numbers 19.2 & Deuteronomy 21.3)
Jesus had planned his move, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision; the ass and foal had already been arranged, and were collected, by means of a password by his disciples.
And so Jesus entered central stage, brave and defiant, a deliberate challenge to the religious elders.
He came asserting his claim as God’s Anointed one; the Messiah. making it very obvious, ‘This is who I am!’ Prophets in those days illustrated the truth of their words with drama!
He came proclaiming peace, riding a humble donkey, not a warhorse, fulfilling words of the prophet Zechariah, who lived 500 years before:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
But as far as the onlookers were concerned:
Here was the one who had come to rally the troops, and put the Romans to flight! Run them out of town or even kill them. This day heralded their ‘High Noon’, their ‘Crunch Time’! Their king had come in full view of the authorities. His timing was perfect and augured well! Passover! The time when freedom had come to the Hebrew slaves, releasing them from the clutches of the Egyptians who had ruled them for so long. Here was hope once more of victory over the oppressor;
Here was the one who would bring in God’s kingdom at last; and from what they had heard of the miracles Jesus had performed, the people he’d had healed, and brought back to life, from what they had heard about him being able to fire the people up, and feed many people with a minimum of food, Jesus was surely the one they had been waiting for! And what a leader he would make! A king just like David.
Here was one just like their former super hero Judas Maccabees, who had cleansed and restored the temple to its full glory after a Syrian King, called Antiochus Epiphanes, had desecrated it with pigs’ flesh, and erected idols there in order to honour Zeus! People had carried palm branches, and cried out their support even then, 200 years before!
So many people in the crowd were PASSIONATE, believing that the Romans would now be driven out.
(If they’d had red cellophane fish on their hands they would have been curled up entirely!)
But not all were as excited; watching the proceedings, at some distance away, were those who were SCEPTICAL, INDIFFERENT, ANGRY, AND FEARFUL, perhaps even JEALOUS: a whole range of emotions which would have caused red cellophane fish to leap off their hands in alarm!
For looking on were those who saw Jesus as an imposter and troublemaker.
They were terrified that all this chaos and commotion might cause the Romans to move in against their people and ransack the temple. (Had Jesus entered the city quietly, unnoticed, he might not have died that week, but in every way he surrendered himself to God’s will.)
Caiaphas their High priest told his fellow men in no uncertain terms:,
“Don’t you realise, that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” A prophetic statement indeed!
In other words, ‘Take away their leader, rid ourselves of him, and all this disruption will come to nothing! There’ll be no bloodshed, other than his!”’
Jesus knew what was in store; he knew his fate from ancient writings which foretold that he would suffer and die, and that he would rise again. Jesus had told his followers this, but they either hadn’t understood this, or they refused to believe it possible.
By the end of the week, it seems that no-one stood by him.
Those closest to him were heartbroken, because in the heat of the moment, at his arrest, they had run away and deserted him.
There must have been some who had cried out his name amidst the crowd that yelled “Crucify him!”, but they would have been shouted down.
No-one acted on his behalf, until after he had died, but many grieved because they loved him, and had been at the receiving end of his love, his kindness and compassion.
There are still many who close their doors and their gates to him today, just as the Ottoman Turks did in 1530 AD when they walled up the Eastern Gate. There are those who refused to believe Jesus was the Messiah, and still await his coming.
There are those of us today who long for his return.
The real question is:-
Will we be ready for him when he does return or will our doors be firmly closed? Will we prove to be loyal, steadfast friends until he returns, or will we blow hot and cold depending upon the world circumstances around us? Which?
Faithful or Fickle?
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