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.
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 www.mikebaughman.com , follow him on twitter @ireverant and read his blog, ireverant.wordpress.com