The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


And the Horse You Rode in On

Should you drive to church in an old Pinto or a fresh Prius?

by Rev. Mike Baughman

Gospel Reading: Mark 11:1-11

For Sunday, April 1, 2012: Year B—Liturgy of the Palms

In America, cars matter.

A lot of people make personal statements by way of their rides. Want to be a badass? Saddle up a Harley Davidson, not a Vespa scooter. Want to show what a success you are? Try a Lexus instead of a Nissan Versa. Want to show that you’re a responsible, caring citizen? Try a Prius, not a Hummer.

There are tons of websites and quizzes dedicated to this phenomenon. We have built an entire industrial complex around the notion that our cars somehow reflect who we are or who we want to be. This, however, isn’t a new cultural phenomenon.

The Horse That Jesus Rides

Want to show that you’re a Messianic hero who is ready to overthrow the oppressive Roman regime? You want a well-trained war steed. That’s what a conqueror rides! But Jesus intentionally chooses an unridden, untrained colt.

Symbolism is important throughout the scriptures. So I’ve got to wonder, why?

A Bit of Horsemanship

An unridden colt is likely difficult work with because it hasn’t been trained and it hasn’t been neutered. It is probably significant that Jesus does not ride a sterile mule or gelding. What Jesus is about to do will be fertile!

There are practical realities too of an unneutered horse—especially one that has been untrained. Riding this horse is dangerous because no one knows how it will respond as a mount or to the teeming crowds. Even if Jesus were accomplished horseman, there’s a good chance that the beast would not follow Jesus’ lead, making the animal dangerous to Jesus and the crowd.


Breaking Tradition

I think this makes total sense for Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem.

This week’s story begins on the Mount of Olives. Jesus starts on the path of others who conquered Jerusalem, but unlike them he is forging a new path, a new way to change the world.

Perhaps the unridden colt is a symbol that Jesus is trying something new that’s never been done before. This way isn’t safe, it hasn’t been test-driven and it is anything but tame. That sounds a lot like Jesus to me. Jesus, it seems, isn’t interested in the way we’ve always done things.

I struggle with how we follow Jesus now. If Jesus came to show us a new way, to what extent is newness an integral part of the way? Are we to follow Jesus as close as we can to the way that he did things or do we have to keep doing new things in order to truly follow Jesus?

The Hardest Question

To put the question into our metaphor: If we still had the colt that Jesus rode in on, would it be better for us to ride the same colt which has now grown up to become a stallion or should we be riding fresh colts all the time? If the colt were to grow old and become domesticated, should we, the church, start again with a dangerous ride?

The Rev. Mike Baughman is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the co-author of one book and has contributed to a long list of books, curricula, resources and research. He also trains and consults with churches non-profits and small businesses on social media and how it can be used to help their work and ministry. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife (also a pastor) and four kids. You can learn more about him at , follow him on twitter @ireverant and read his blog,


  1. Robin Franklin says:

    I like this insight about the kind of “ride” Jesus had and the challenge to find a new way… glad I stumbled onto this web page…

  2. Jennifer says:

    UGH! For the first year our congregation is having a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service so I think I should be happy about focusing on Palm Sunday instead of trying to smush in some of the Passion for those people who never had a Good Friday service to attend in our church before. In the past our Palm Sunday service ended with draping the black. But now, we save that for Friday.

    So, I can really focus on this triumphant entry and this palm parade, but I can’t shake that unease of what’s going to happen. It’s so macabre to have our kids waving those palms as they enter into the service. It tears me up. I want to snatch the palm fronds away and tell them, “Go home. It’s going to get ugly later. I don’t want you as a part of this.”

    I know what’s going to happen.

    I don’t like it.

    I think I want to go home, too.

    Mike, thanks for your insight here. It’s giving me something else to work with. I think I’ve been through this Palm Sunday so many times that the colt already feels ridden. I want to embrace this perspective. With it I might just make it through Sunday.

    I also want to thank Tony and Russell on the video blog. That was definitely an epiphany moment about Barabbas. Barabbas is the first one Jesus dies for and the sound byte “He’s a bystander to his own salvation.” I’d buy you guys a doughnut for that one if you’d meet me at the doughnut place.

    So, Holy Week, here we come.

How do you read?