An Example of Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently at my church here in Omaha, we had a video presentation from a married couple at our church. It was a very honest and vulnerable story of their marriage — and the brokenness they have experienced in it and the lessons they’ve learned through it.

Here it is:

After the video played there was a definite sense of heaviness that filled the room. I doubt there was a dry eye to speak of. People clapped in appreciation of their transparency and their vulnerability. When the pastor got up on stage afterwards he recognized the sense of heaviness that was present in the room. He appropriately told us to all take a deep breath in, and then a deep breath out.

After the sermon we have communion together as a church. There are about six stations where two people hold a loaf of bread and a cup of wine/grape juice. I noticed that Roger and Denise were at one of the stations. I thought that was a beautiful thing.

I thought it was beautiful because it exemplifies what I believe to be empowerment. They put themselves in a vulnerable spot. They bore the darker moments of their lives with us as a congregation, and now to the world via the internet. Yet, vulnerability is not simply sharing personal, shameful, or embarrassing information about yourself. It is a reaching out for connection while telling such information, not knowing how others might respond. But having Roger and Denise serve communion (a sober celebration and reminder of the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his coming again), it allowed them to serve the people of the church to whom they just bore their souls. It allowed the church to affirm them as our fellow brother and sister despite their messiness. They were empowered as they served communion to others in the church and spoke “this is Christ’s body, broken for you” and “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

A beautiful thing. And an example of what empowerment looks like. The leaders of the church created the environment for this couple to be empowered, and the congregation truly empowered and affirmed them as they came up for communion.

Empowering Leadership

[A note to the reader: This is very much a working document of mine as I consider my views of empowerment and leadership. Please comment and add your thoughts or opinions. I’d love some pushback, too, if you happen to disagree with various aspects of what I have written.] 

Over the course of my life I have had the privilege of being in a wide variety of leadership roles. In nearly every stage of my life I have been a leader of some sort in various groups or organizations, whether it be in Boy Scouts, school, or ministry. Empowerment is a term and a concept that has been used in nearly every group I have been a part of. Empowerment is often a goal of most leadership roles that I have experienced. We are told that a good leader empowers those below themselves – gives autonomy, gives power and responsibility to those under one’s leadership. And yes, I believe this to be true in a sense. But how this is done exactly is almost never explained. It’s just assumed that a leader will empower others.

What is required for a leader to be able to successfully empower those under his or her influence? Well, I believe this is crucial to understand if a leader is to successfully and consistently empower others.

One of the issues to first note is that the term empowerment is often thrown around with the assumption that we understand what it means. We may say that it means to give power to others, but what does that look like when it’s acted upon? Oftentimes what people call empowerment in reality looks like delegation. What often happens is that a person in a leadership role will see someone else taking on various responsibilities and deem that person an up and coming leader and then gives that person more responsibilities. Or someone wants to be involved in some way, and a leader puts that person in a role that might fit what the person wants to do.

So without ever taking any leadership courses at a university, these are details and thoughts that I have learned myself along the way.

An empowering leader is self-aware and honest.

For a leader to really flourish and be empowering, there is a prerequisite of being willing to be self-aware and honest about themselves. This creates an environment for them to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. It allows for them to see where they have succeeded and failed in various endeavors of the past. It allows for them to be able to first admit their mistakes, and then to learn from those mistakes for further application.

An empowering leader knows their own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses.

Everyone has aspects of themselves that are gifts. These are the skills and characteristics that seem to come naturally, almost a part of one’s personality. Some people are gifted in being able to speak publicly for example. They are able to speak clearly and creatively communicate their ideas, thoughts, and stories. Some are simply gifted in this area, while others are not. Some are gifted in humility. They are the types of people that do things behind the scenes and are not bothered when they are not recognized for the work that they do. Gifts are the aspects that come naturally to someone. They are the parts of the person that are a part of their identity – and have been for as long as people can remember.

Gifts may be used and shown everyday, but some can be left undeveloped. Strengths, however, are usually the gifts that have been developed and nurtured in such a way that they stand out as a part of our identity and have become parts of our everyday actions.

Strengths are the skills and characteristics that oftentimes come easy, but usually they have also been developed throughout one’s life. Gifts and strengths often overlap, but not always. The way I like to categorize strengths is that they are the skills and characteristics that we have been told stand out in us and that we find our confidence in. They are the skills and characteristics that through training or life’s various experiences have been nurtured. Some people might have developed the skill of being a quick and improvisational thinker. This is a skill that might not have necessarily come naturally to them in the past, but through various experiences and schooling they have developed the ability and are very good at it. Some people might have the characteristic of being patient. This isn’t necessarily something that came easily to them, but throughout their life have been told they are patient and have continued to develop this characteristic in such a way that it has become a strength that stands out in their interactions with others.

Everyone also has weaknesses. These are aspects and characteristics of people’s life that have not been nurtured or addressed. These weaknesses usually arise throughout our lives due to the complexities of our personalities and temperament mixed with our life’s experiences. Most people, starting from a very young age, create coping mechanisms and ways to process the things we witness or hear about that lend themselves to be counterproductive to nurturing healthy habits, skills, or characteristics. Oftentimes these weaknesses are no fault of our own necessarily, but they remain hidden because we usually don’t want to analyze our weaknesses. However, oftentimes we are well aware of our weaknesses, such as a short temper or a tendency to judge people, but are unwilling to do the work necessary to change them due to our own pride or even because of our shame.

Naturally we like to focus on our gifts and strengths. And it feels good when people acknowledge them. We feel valued when they are recognized. And that’s ok. An effective leader knows their strengths and gifts well – and usually, they rely on them every day. But it’s even more important for an effective leader to know their weaknesses.

There are many advantages to knowing your own weaknesses:

  • It illuminates the places in which you can grow.
  • It helps to show the kind of people to surround yourself with and to learn from.
  • It creates transparency with others and a sense of humility – a way to for others to see that you don’t have to act like you have it all figured out. Everyone has places in which they can grow.
  • It keeps you as a leader in a place where you’re willing to learn – to still be teachable.

An empowering leader learns when and where their strengths become weaknesses.

The thing with leadership is that it, like most everything in life, is not done in a vacuum. We work and do life with other people. Other people who have personalities and strengths and weaknesses of their own. When working with people, things can get messy pretty quickly. Personalities clash. People can get defensive, prideful, or power hungry.

Most people lean into their strengths to help them in their tasks, relationships, and jobs. And for leaders, it is often their strengths that helped them get to where they are. That’s fine and normal. But in leadership, strengths are not always strengths. Sometimes the strength that helped someone become a leader hinders their ability to continue to lead well. Let’s say someone is skilled in making quick and wise decisions. This skill helped them stand out as a confident leader. And it was one of the reasons this person quickly became a leader in whatever circle he or she was a part of. But once this person was a leader, the skill of quick decision making might not be as helpful as it had been. The leader now has a lot more people to consider than just him/herself. To make quick decisions might not be a good thing like it once had been. People could be overlooked, voices not heard, and therefore problematic for good leadership.

So a good leader will be able to recognize these types of potential situations. They are self-aware enough to be able to recognize how strengths that helped get them to where they are, may no longer be strengths.

An empowering leader understands the value of diversity.

Because good leaders realize that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum, they see the value of those around them. They also don’t want surround themselves with people exactly like themselves. Diversity exists all around us, whether we can see it or not. There is diversity of race, which is what most people first think of when the word diversity is mentioned. Racial and ethnic diversity is such an incredible environment for empowering leaders. There are so many perspectives and backgrounds to listen to and learn from. Sometimes the act of simply listening to voices different from one’s own is an empowering act in and of itself. Being a voice for those whose voice is rarely heard or valued is a responsibility of an empowering leader. In fact, it may be a requirement of a truly empowering leader.

But diversity is not simply limited to racial and ethnic categories. There’s also diversity of age, gender, sexual orientation, theological background, socio-economics, political, and other cultural elements with people self-identify. An good leader understands that there is value in all this, and wants to understand and implement the strengths that come from all that diversity. A good leader recognizes this diversity and creates environments in which the diversity of voices, opinions, and beliefs can be spoken in a safe environment. That means the leader is first willing to be vulnerable before those he or she leads.

An empowering leader is relational.

This may be a very Western understanding of leadership, but I think it is very effective in any culture. We are relational beings, and I think we always appreciate it when leaders are approachable and relational. I believe that a good leader is willing to take the time to be truly relational with those he or she leads. He or she actually gets to know those around them. This means that a safe approachable space is able to be created. Being relational and approachable doesn’t undercut a good leader’s authority, it enhances it.

An empowering leader learns the strengths and weaknesses of those around him or her.

Because a good leader is relational, they are able to identify and learn the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. The leader is constantly people watching, observing those around them — noting how various individuals interact with each other, learning what they are passionate about, and what they value. The leader constantly keeps these notes in the back of their mind as they think about those they lead and serve.

What are some of the strengths of various individuals that are not getting utilized or recognized very well? Where are some of the weaknesses holding people back from growing or maturing as a person or potential leader? The leader then thinks about how various individuals could be empowered and given various responsibilities to tap into the their strengths and to help them overcome some of their weaknesses.

An empowering leader understands that true empowerment comes from the community, not from a leader.

This may be my most important insight. Something that I believe is unfortunately often misunderstood.

A leader is not someone who just recognizes a strength in an individual and then gives them responsibilities based on that strength. That’s delegation. It’s good the leader recognized the strength in that individual, but placing them in a place of power or giving them responsibilities isn’t necessarily empowering. It could be burdensome. The people they are leading might not appreciate their leadership style or strength. The individual’s weaknesses could be overshadowing their strengths.

A truly empowering leader understands that he or she is not the one who does the empowering — it’s the community that provides the empowerment. A leader is wise enough to place a person with certain strengths and weaknesses in an environment or community that will provide that empowerment.

An empowering leader appropriately places people, based upon their strengths and weaknesses, in environments that allow for their strengths to flourish and be recognized and their weaknesses to be nurtured.

This is critical for good leadership. If someone is a good at teaching and explaining things, then to place them in an environment in which they can teach others just makes sense. But the people that this person is teaching should also be willing learners. Maybe the person teaching is really great at explaining things, but severely lacks confidence. The people that surround this teacher should not just be willing learners, but encouragers as well. This group of learners could really encourage the teacher by vocally affirming his or her skills of teaching and explaining.

As a leader, it may even be important to let the group of learners in this situation know that this person is a really gifted and skilled teacher, but lacks confidence. Maybe the teacher also lacks tact as they teach or explain things, and the group of learners could provide feedback in a way which helps challenge some of the weaknesses that this teacher has. This allows for the teacher to have their strengths recognized, affirmed, and utilized while also aptly addressing their weaknesses in such a way that encourages growth. So in the end it is not the leader who actually does the empowering, it is the community. The leader simply helps create that an environment where empowerment can occur.

An empowering leader consults when possible with both the empowered person and the group or team they lead.

If the leader has successfully created an environment for a person to be empowered, then that leader doesn’t need to constantly be there. However, it is important to check in with the newly empowered individual. How are they feeling about their responsibilities? Do they feel that they have been able to use their strengths effectively? What has it been like to use those strengths? How have they been able to identify some of their weaknesses and perhaps start to lean into some of them?

It is also important to check in with the group when possible. From their perspective, what are things that are working? What are things that aren’t working as well? What have they enjoyed about the empowered individual? How have they grown under his or her leadership?

The model that I have just explained fits within situations where there the empowerment comes in the form of empowering leaders. But the key element in my opinion of true empowerment is that a community or a collective group of people is truly where empowerment is generated. It does not come from the top down. A leader may put the various pieces together or orchestrate events to occur – but the empowerment itself comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.

I recently read an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic in which he refers to Robert Nisbet’s distinction between power and authority. I think his thoughts on power and authority are a refined and advanced reflection on my ideals of empowerment that I have just discussed. But it also shows the  when people assume the power should come from the top down instead of the bottom up, major systemic issues can arise.

In his 1953 book The Quest For Community, conservative Robert Nisbet distinguishes between “power” and “authority.” Authority, claims Nisbet, is a matter of relationships, allegiances, and association and is “based ultimately upon the consent of those under it.” Power, on the other hand, is “external” and “based upon force.” Power exists where allegiances have decayed or never existed at all. “Power arises,” writes Nesbit, “only when authority breaks down.”


Journey to the Cross: Thursday

I did write most of a post for Tuesday and the Bible is very quiet about the events of Wednesday. I would have finished my post if I hadn’t been spending over two hours trying to convince my two and a half year old to stay in bed. But that’s where I’m at in life right now and I’m just not going to be able to post about Tuesday and Wednesday at this point. And really, today isn’t going to be much better.

But Thursday of Holy Week is an incredible day. The Last Supper, the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the mobs.

I decided that I wanted to try and share a part of what happened that day to my kids. I pulled out the Jesus Storybook Bible and opened to the page about the Last Supper and the part where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. I got a basin of warm water and a cloth and we read the story together. I told them that Jesus told us to love everyone in this world. And sometimes that means we have to do things that aren’t pleasant or fun. So I washed Micah’s feet with the damp cloth and showed him how Jesus did that with his disciples. Then I had him wash Ezra’s feet with the cloth like I had done for him. It ended up being a very precious time for me. I grabbed a quick couple shots on my phone, and I’m so glad I did.

Processed with VSCOcam with e8 preset

Journey to the Cross: Monday

[This is part two in a series I’m doing following Holy Week in the Book of Mark. You can see part one here.]

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree and Cleanses the Temple

Here we get to see the beginning of a classic example of a “Markan Sandwich.” Mark was a very intentional writer. He often used a literary device than many people refer to as the sandwich method. Really it’s just a chiasm (half of the letter chi in Greek – or X in English). He starts off the story by talking about Jesus and a fruitless fig tree. He seemingly randomly gets very upset about it not having fruit (even though it was not the season for figs, as Mark notes), and then curses it. Then the story quickly moves to Jesus getting angry in the temple.

Mark 11:12-19

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree,“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

The temple story seems to make sense. People were setting up businesses and ripping people off in a place that was meant was for true worship and prayer. The worship and events that took place in that temple were a far cry from what Jesus believed should have been happening. But what in the world was up with that whole ordeal with the fig tree? It seems so random, unnecessary, strange. But the story doesn’t end there. But before looking ahead what conclusions could been drawn? It’s got to be related to Jesus’ actions in the temple somehow, right?

I’m going to include the rest of the sandwich even though it happens the next morning.

Mark 11:20-25.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

So in the morning they’re walking along and they come across the fig tree again. Only this time, the tree is withered from the roots. Peter recognizes the tree and remembers what happened the day before. And then we get a very interesting, and perhaps a bit confusing, lesson and conclusion from Jesus.

But this is the bottom half of Mark’s sandwich. And he’s written this story the way he did with a purpose.

Ok, this is what I think is going on:

Jesus is hungry. He wants something to eat. He sees a fig tree from afar and it has leaves on it. I’m no expert on trees, but from what I have been told about fig trees, if a fig tree had leaves showing it often would have fruit, because figs generally grow before the leaves appear and often have multiple crops. It was a bit early in the season for a fig tree to have fruit, but since it had leaves it wasn’t crazy for them to expect it to have figs.

Ok, so that deals with the question of why Jesus would be mad that there weren’t figs in the tree even when it wasn’t in season. But why does he curse it? It seems to be a bit of an overreaction. I guess Jesus must have been really hungry. No. That’s not really what I think is going on. I think Mark wants us to hold onto this story and the questions is raises. That’s why he tells the story the way he does.

Jesus then goes into the temple. He had quickly visited the temple courts the night before and looked around. But it was late, and even though he was probably mad by the things he saw, he didn’t want to get into it then. But I bet he stewed on it that evening, though. He had gone from being praised as king to going to the temple and seeing merchants scamming people within the temple courts before Passover.

When Jesus came back into the temple, he didn’t just wander around and look at the people. He was angry. He walked in and started driving people from their merchant tables. Both those selling and those buying. He overturned tables, flipped over the benches of those selling doves. He stopped people from carrying merchandise around. He was mad. But then he began teaching them. I wish we had everything he said, because I don’t know how you go from flipping over tables to teaching or preaching, but I have a feeling he wasn’t sitting down and perfectly calm as he taught. I’m sure his voice was raised and he was very stern.

Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’

I feel like this is the statement that everyone remembered. It’s the quote that everyone remembers the next day. Like everyone is hearing him teach and he drops that line and half the people are like, “Oooooh, snap!” and the other half just get really mad because he’s talking about them. (Kind of reminds me of Obama during the 2015 State of the Union address when he came back with that witty quip after Republicans clapped after he said he had run his last campaign).

Anyway, Jesus was not happy with Israel’s empty worship and their scamming shortcuts to religious rituals. He let them know about it. And this event is commonly referred to as Jesus cleansing the temple.

The next morning they pass that fig tree again and Peter is shocked to see it dead already. In his defense, that would be shocking. Also, I’m pretty sure this is the only time Jesus does something supernatural in a destructive way. (Let me know if I’m incorrect in this in the comments). But that makes it stand out to the disciples and probably should to the reader as well. So what’s up with it?

This is not the only time a fig tree is mentioned in Scripture. And a fig tree is sometimes symbolic for the nation of Israel. Here it would make sense for that to be the case in this context. A fruitful fig tree would be representative of a blessing and prosperity, and a fruitless fig tree, and especially one that is cursed and withered, would be representative of judgment and rejection.

As Jesus publicly condemned Israel’s worship in the temple, he symbolically condemned the nation of Israel through the cursing of the fig tree.

And this is how we see the two stories come together. It takes a bit of investigation, but it’s all quite reasonable (and fun). But then we have Jesus’ response to Peter and the disciples. There’s a lot going on in this short passage and it sounds very promising at first, and a bit scary by the end. He says,

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Because this is not a perfectly clear passage and it is the conclusion to Mark’s sandwich, I am confident that I am going to miss a lot of what is meant in this passage. At face value it seems to promote a prosperity gospel message. If you pray to God you can get whatever you want as long as you believe hard enough. If this were the only passage in the Bible that dealt with prayer, then maybe one could conclude that (but find their prayer life extremely frustrating), but I am very confident there is much more going on here than simply thinking we can just pray and get whatever we want. What would that have to do with all that just happened with the fig tree and the temple?

There are probably all sorts of interpretations, but I think that taking this passage in context is probably pretty important. This is how I understand it:

Jesus is not talking about any mountain. He’s talking about the mountain that the temple is located on. It stood in opposition to the kingdom that Jesus was ushering into this world. The fig tree was symbolic of Israel, and stood in opposition to Jesus and to the true worship of God. He cursed the fig tree and he cleansed the temple. He was throwing that mountain into the depths of the sea. We too, when things stand in the way of true worship of God or the purposes of his kingdom in this world, can command such things to be thrown into the depths of the ocean. Our faith must be in God and his kingdom. There may be opposition to Jesus and his ways on this earth, but don’t doubt. Have faith in God and those mountains will be removed, but that doesn’t mean things are always going to be easy. By the end of the week Jesus would be crucified on that mountain. (Perhaps another hidden irony in the passion narrative?) Surely there is a lesson in that as well. (Like I said…this passage is probably rich in meaning and depth. Just a few years after Mark wrote this book the temple was destroyed, so there may be hints of prophecy that I am missing, too.)

There is probably much more to be said and drawn from this passage, but that’s just a basic interpretation.

And now we come to the last verse:

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Of course this is part of Jesus’ teaching we were just looking at, but I think this verse stands out. Forgiveness is central to understanding the Christian faith, and so I think this is an important verse that should not be overlooked.

It is more important to make sure that we are at peace with others, that we have forgiven others for anything and everything, than it is for us to worship God if harboring any unforgiveness in our hearts. To ask for, or even expect God’s forgiveness while harboring unforgiveness is a slap in the face to God. How can we ask God to do something for us that we are not willing to do for others? That mimics the faulty and hypocritical worship of the Jews that Jesus was condemning. If we want God to forgive us, then we should forgive others. It’s an act of faith. It’s an emulation of God’s greatest gift to us.

I have written a few other posts about forgiveness if you want to read them you can here and here.








Journey to the Cross: Sunday

Jesus Enters Jerusalem as King (Palm Sunday)

The most significant week for Christians is the week of Easter, often called Holy Week. I thought it would be neat to look at this week from the perspective of Mark. Next year maybe I’ll choose another Gospel author to follow along with. I’ve always liked Mark, though. He’s short and to the point. Yet, he includes interestingly specific details that the other authors do not.

Palm Sunday has always fascinated me. The whole passion narrative is thick with irony. The passion narrative in Matthew contains perhaps the most examples of the ironies of the last days of Jesus’ life, but Mark has them, too.

Here’s what happened on Sunday of Holy Week as found in Mark.

Mark 11:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

It starts off in an interesting way. As they get to the Mount of Olives, a set hills just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus tells two of his disciples to go get a donkey colt in the town just ahead of them. He knows that it’s there. He knows what the disciples should say to anyone who asks about what they are doing.

Jesus shows he knows everything that is about to happen. Nothing is a surprise to him. The fact that he knows a colt was tied to a doorway was not just a good guess. It had been prophesied and he knew that it was there.

I wonder what the conversation looked like between the disciples on the way there.

“Uh…so let me get this straight. We are going to get into town, assuming there is a colt that hasn’t been ridden and we’re just going to…take it?”
“Yeah…I guess so.”
“Let’s just hope no one is around. I really don’t want to have to tell them that we are taking it and we’ll return it later. What if they say no?”
“Hey man…Jesus knows what he’s doing. There’s a reason he’s telling us to do this.”

Sure enough, when the disciples got to the nearby village there was a colt tied to a doorpost. As they untied it people ask them what they are doing. Another conversation I would love to see…

“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Uh, don’t worry. We’re not stealing it. The Lord needs it and will bring it back shortly.”
“Um…ok? But it has never been ridden before.”
“Perfect! We’ll bring him back in a bit.”

Then they bring it back to Jesus and throw their cloaks over the back of the colt and Jesus sits down and begins riding into Jerusalem. The people around recognized Jesus and began throwing down their cloaks on the road and went out to the fields and brought back branches and spread them around (hence Palm Sunday).

They celebrated Jesus as King. They shouted “Hosanna!” That is a shout of celebration, a “hurray!” so to speak. It can mean “Save, please!” too. They celebrated as the people of Israel once celebrated David, the greatest and most famous of all the Jewish kings of the past. They celebrated Jesus as their savior – but not a savior from death and sin, but of politics and religion. But they were praising and celebrating a Jesus they had hoped for and wanted, not the Jesus they needed. The people celebrated and were basically worshipping Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem. But by the end of the week some of these same people would be screaming for him to be crucified.

Jesus knew that. He knew that the praises that sprang from the lips of these people were accurate and true, but void of their true meaning. Herein lies the irony of Palm Sunday. The praises the people say are indeed true. He is there to save them. He has ushered in the coming kingdom of David. It was right for them to say these things, but they didn’t understand what they were saying.

What must have that been like for Jesus? To hear people say things that were true, but to have the people not know what they were saying or singing or praising. Perhaps it’s similar to many Sundays around the world. We sing songs filled with meaning and theological truths and oftentimes have no understanding of what we are singing. Our words are empty. We may even understand what we are singing, and allow the words to have meaning in that moment — but by the end of the week we are cursing Jesus and slapping him in the face by our own actions, thoughts, words, and behaviors.

But Jesus sat there and accepted their praises. I’m sure the disciples loved being with him then. Proud to be with someone so respected, so worthy of praise. He was loved. They probably felt so special, very important. But by the end of the week, they too would desert Jesus and even deny knowing him.

And thus begins Holy Week.