A Palm Sunday Reflection on John 12:12-43

The next day the great crowd… took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

It’s hard to imagine exactly what Jesus knew as he rode into Jerusalem that day. On the one hand, I think he was clear about his calling. He had “set his face toward Jerusalem” and he knew the cup he was going to be asked to drink. But despite profound convictions about the nature and implications of his vocation, I can’t help but think that the shouts of praise caused him, if only for a moment, to wonder. Did he hear the people shouting “hosanna” and hope, for a fleeting second, that maybe the end of the story would be easier than he had previously believed?

There is something so seductive about human approval. Our egos love applause. I can only assume that Jesus was no different than we are in this regard. Feelings of affirmation, validation, acceptance are universally positive. We all long to be truly understood and supported. When the crowds surround you and shout your praises, you believe, if only for a moment, that they truly love you and that they are going to stand by you.

Yet, these things don’t last. Approval, acceptance, affirmation are almost always temporary. As good as our motives are, we are going to be criticized. As loving and true and noble as our cause may be, we are bound to be misunderstood. As they say “You can’t please all the people, all the time.” This is true when you are trying to please people. If your goal is higher, if your calling is from God, you will most definitely not please the people. There may be a few who understand. There may be a couple who get it — who courageously invest in the holy work God has placed in your life — but you must know that the “hosannas” of today very well may be the “crucify hims” of tomorrow.

I wonder if Jesus was tempted to place his hope in the adoration of the people? Did the admiration of the people appeal to the deepest places of insecurity in his heart? I can only imagine that our high priest, the one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who has been in every way tested as we are tested, was tempted to anchor his confidence in the praise of the crowd. Because that’s what I would do. I would be so thrilled by their excitement. I would be intoxicated by their adoration. And I would be tempted, deeply tempted, to find my ultimate identity in their opinion of me.

But as the one without sin, the one who understood the call of God on his life in a way that I can’t even imagine, Jesus saw the temptation for what it was and knew that he had to resist. He reminded himself that human glory is nothing compared to the glory that comes from God (v.43). He understood that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit (v.25). He was crystal clear about God’s call on his life, and followed with laser-like focus. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (v.32) In the midst of the thronging crowd, Jesus sought the one in whom true glory lies. “Father, glorify your name.” (v.28)

Amy Bost Henegar
Minister for Family Life and Spiritual Formation
Manhattan Church of Christ
New York, NY