Rev. George Miller
April 9, 2017
It’s been a busy week for news. On the pop-culture front, there’s the brouhaha about the Pepsi add featuring Kendall Jenner.
The ad features various kinds of people staging a protest, in which everything is solved and everything comes to a positive conclusion when Kendall simply offers a police officer a Pepsi.
Muslims, gays, brown people all cheer and celebrate that through Pepsi all the problems of the world are pacified.
Public uproar was swift and unforgiving, criticizing the ad for diminishing the real issues and struggle people have been protesting about.
There are 2 things I can say about the Pepsi ad- if the product was replaced by the bread and cup of Communion we would have an entire discourse on sacramental theology.
The other comment is this- hate it or like it, Pepsi’s ad was brilliant because it did what marketing is supposed to do- make people aware of what you’re offering.
Sure, people were upset, but Pepsi got a week’s worth of free advertising, news stories, parodies, social media posts and consumer awareness that no amount of polar bears got Coca-Cola.
Pepsi’s ad did what marketing is supposed to do- raise awareness.
Marketing has been around for ages: Lucy doing a commercial for Vitavegameatamin, Hope and Crosby shilling for Lucky Strikes, Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake.”
An example of effective marketing is the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew had a message for the masses- Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
Matthew was a Jew writing for other Jewish people who wanted nothing more than for his peers to realize that Jesus was the right one for them.
If Matthew was alive today he would say that with Jesus you are in “Good hands.”
Matthew would say Jesus “Is the sweet one- uh huh.”
Matthew would say that Jesus is the “best part of waking up.”
Matthew believes that Jesus is the path to salvation, and he will do anything to share that Good News…even if it means finagling things a little bit.
So Matthew takes the story of Jesus and spruces things up a little to get his audiences’ attention.
He finds ways to subconsciously connect Jesus to Moses. So if Moses was a baby in Egypt, Matthew tells us that baby Jesus lived in Egypt.
If Moses received the 10 Commandments on a mountain, then Matthew has Jesus teach the Beatitudes on a mountain.
Matthew combs the scriptures to find verses that he can apply to his story of Jesus.
So if John the Baptist is in the wilderness calling people to repent, Matthew finds a scripture in Isaiah about a voice in the wilderness.
And this is all well and good, and was totally acceptable in his day.
Matthew is doing what he can to get his message across. He truly believes Jesus is the 1 we have all been waiting for. Matthew is marketing the heck out of Jesus, but because he is human, he does have a misstep here and there.
Example- today’s story, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Everyone from common folk to religious leaders to politicians and the military have come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, the “12 Hours of Sebring” for Religious Types.
The story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem is one of the few stories that is told in every one of the Gospels, but each Gospel writer tells the story differently.
For example, John is the only Gospel that mentions palm branches. Mark includes an interaction with bystanders who worry that the disciples are stealing the colt.
But Matthew, Matthew does something so outrageous. I wonder if anyone even noticed it…
…Matthew has Jesus ride in on not one, but 2 animals. Look at verse 7-
“…they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.”
Is Matthew trying to tell us that Jesus rode in on 2 animals at the same time?
How did he do that? Was Jesus so limber he could straddle two animals at the same time?
Does this mean Jesus was bowlegged?
Or, did Jesus ride side saddle, and he rested his feet on the colt, kind of like the foot cushion of a moving sofa?
Or was Jesus really, really cool like that and he just stretched out Cleopatra-style, resting his head on his hand, like “Hey- I’m Jesus- how you doin’?”
Why oh why oh why would Matthew tell us Jesus rode in on 2 animals when Mark, Luke and John do not?
I say it goes back to the marketing.
Matthew wanted to find a way to make sure his telling of Jesus fulfilled the scriptures.
So he found in Zechariah 9:9 a scripture that read-
“…Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
It’s a beautiful piece of writing that uses a poetic art form called parallelism, in which you restate something in a different way to add emphasis.
Zechariah states that the king was riding in on a donkey, then he explains it is a colt- the foal of a donkey.
He is not implying there are 2 animals.
It is akin to me saying “Last night I had the most delicious dinner, a hamburger, a hamburger covered in bacon and blue cheese dressing.”
I’m not saying I had dinner AND a hamburger, I’m simply stating what I had in a way that sounds much more poetic than saying “Yo- I went to the Caddyshack last night.”
Zechariah is simply using poetic license to say that our king will ride in on a donkey.
But Matthew, in his zeal for marketing, slips up, confusing the sentence structure to think the prophecy is saying there is an adult and a baby donkey that the king is riding upon.
So…when Matthew the marketer writes his account of Jesus entering the city, he adds this extra detail as a way to say to his Jewish customer-base “Look how Jesus fulfills the prophecy; see how Jesus is the sweet one we’ve been waiting for all along.”
Which means that if we were to film today’s story as a TV commercial, we’d see the disciples over here, the crowds over there, spreading out their cloaks and cutting branches from the trees, we’d hear them shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!”
And we’d see Jesus somehow, someway, riding in to town on not one, but two animals.
If that is true, it would’ve been his greatest miracle of all time.
So- what do we do?
Do we throw the whole entirety of the Gospel away because of one possible mistake?
Do we give in to skepticism and question every and all things Matthew says?
Do we blindly accept Matthew’s telling and say “This is the inerrant Word of God free from all errors and questioning it is a sin!”
Do we ignore it away?
Do we find relief in knowing that even a Gospel writer can be a Left Shark and make a simple mistake?
Is our faith strong enough that we can admit that there are instances in the Bible in which we can’t say something is 100% fact, or 100% fiction, but we can say something is 100% truth.
Because I’m not mad at Matthew the Marketer for what he did here. I think Matthew has nothing but the best intentions and what he is saying is this-
Into this holy season, into a time and country ruffled with political leaders, soldiers, military maneuvers,
Into a place filled with turmoil, deplorables, common folk, men, women, innocent children…
Into a Holy Week full of absolute uncertainty, Jesus enters-
About to shake things up.
Ready to show all of us just how far God’s love will go for the sake of the people and for the sake of the planet.
Who cares if Jesus rides in on one animal or on two?
What Jesus is offering right now is greater than Pepsi. More powerful than Putin. More precise than tomahawk warheads.
Jesus has entered into the city to offer a chance, a chance for us to cleanse our ways, to accept the invitation to attend the Lord’s heavenly banquet.
A chance to know that the greatest thing any of us can ever do is to love the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and all your mind and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves…
…What will we do?
Will we shout “Hosanna!” or will we shout “Crucify!”?
Will we wave palm branches before the King, or will we strike Jesus with a reed?
Will we live in such a way that we cower in fear, or will we come to the tomb ready to be truly alive?
Amen and amen.