TEXTS: Zechariah 9:9-10, 16-17 and Luke 19:28b-40
Do any of you remember an old TV game show called, “Queen for a Day”? I don’t remember it at all. Apparently, the show ran on American television from 1948 until 1964 … going off the air when I was 10 years old. So maybe I should remember it … or perhaps it was never broadcast in Canada.
The only reason I know about “Queen for a Day” is because someone texted me a link to some archival footage, saying: “Watch this. It’s hilarious. LOL” 1
When I followed the link, I found a very old black-and-white episode, which began with a voice-over that went like this:
Once again, from Hollywood’s great Moulin Rouge Theater Restaurant, Pan-American Coffee Bureau, who says, “Want it great? Make it coffee, make it often, make it right!”; Ex-Lax, the laxative that helps restore your normal regularity gently overnight; and Hartz Mountain, the best products for happier, healthier pets; proudly presents, “Queen for a Day,” the Cinderella show starring the one and only king of “Queen for a Day,” Mister Jack Bailey!
By all accounts, “Queen for a Day” was very popular in its time. Maybe not very good—but very popular! In fact, the NBC television network increased the show’s running time from 30 to 45 minutes in order to sell more commercials, at a then-premium rate of $4,000 per minute.
The program centered around finding a woman living in difficult circumstances and making her “Queen for a Day.” After she was selected for this honour, she would be picked up by a chauffeur-driven limousine and taken to a Beverly Hills salon, where she was given a complete makeover.
Then she would be outfitted with a new wardrobe and taken to a high-end restaurant, escorted by some Hollywood celebrities. That night, she would stay in a luxury hotel. Of course, in the morning she would be taken back to her actual residence—and back to her real life. She had been Queen … for a day.
The gospel reading for Palm Sunday—which recounts the story we refer to as the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus—could easily be re-titled “King for a Day.” I think it demonstrates—vividly—the fickle nature of those who would follow Jesus. Here’s the story as Luke reports it—and as Eugene Peterson renders it in his paraphrase, called The Message:
… Jesus headed straight up to Jerusalem. When he got near Bethphage and Bethany at the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a colt tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says anything, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’”
The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the colt, its owners said, “What are you doing untying the colt?”
They said, “His Master needs him.”
They brought the colt to Jesus. Then, throwing their coats on its back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode, the people gave him a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street.
Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!
Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”
But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”
That’s what the Revised Common Lectionary serves up for this day. But if we continue reading, we hear these four verses:
When the city came into view, he wept over it. “If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late. In the days ahead your enemies are going to bring up their heavy artillery and surround you, pressing in from every side. They’ll smash you and your babies on the pavement. Not one stone will be left intact. All this because you didn’t recognize and welcome God’s personal visit.” 2
There were two and a half million people in Jerusalem that day. From all over the known world, they had come for the Passover Feast—and by now they had heard about Jesus of Nazareth, and all the wonders he had performed. They knew that he was at Bethany, and they knew what he could do. Now, word was spreading that Jesus was on his way into the city to drive out the Romans! Or at least, that was what many of them hoped. It was also what many of them feared.
His disciples had borrowed a donkey’s colt for his ride into Jerusalem—a donkey, not a war horse. By itself, this should have been a signal that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of peace—not any kind of military leader. Jesus proceeds into the city like a humble servant, just as the prophet Zechariah said the Messiah would do:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
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. (Zech. 9:9)
Crowds line the streets to hail Jesus as Messiah—“the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
This is theatre—theatre on a grand scale. But the adulation will be short-lived. As the week progresses—as it becomes obvious that Jesus is not going to fit into the popular image of the Messiah—public opinion will turn against him.
On this first day of the week, a crowd cries out to Jesus, shouting, “Hosanna!” By the end of the week, another crowd will shout, “Crucify him!”
But why? Could it have been because they wanted an instant kingdom—and he offered them an eternal kingdom? Could it have been because the crowds wanted entertainment—not challenging instruction? Could it have been because—once they were confronted with the real demands of Jesus’ kingdom—they took offence and turned away?
Jesus resisted any attempt to make his message—or his ministry—into an instrument of the culture, or the government, or any religious group. He would not dance to anyone’s tune—only to his Father’s melody. As this became clear, the expectant crowds began to dissipate.
And you know, they were not much different than we are. Just like them, we spurn religious commitments that fail to support our political views—or our economic interests. Any faith that demands first place in our lives is not acceptable … is it? After all, religious faith should make my life easier … shouldn’t it? I want Jesus to uphold my worldview and demand of me nothing at all.
We live in a day of instant everything—from instant cake mixes, to information and entertainment. We can no longer tolerate waiting for anything. A God who does not give us what we want now is of no use to us. Church services and sermons are a waste of my time if they are not immediately translatable into four useful ways to do—or not do—something on Monday morning. I pray—and I expect God to jump!
Yet, Jesus will not jump for us. He refuses to adjust his message to the popular ideas of any place or time—whether first-century Jerusalem, or 21st-century Calgary—or Ottawa, or Washington, or Moscow, or even … (fill in your hometown). Jesus calls people to life-long commitment. He wants disciples, not dabblers! There is no place in his company for religious hobbyists. Jesus wants us to be “all in” for him. But that is scary, isn’t it?
God calls us to repentance. We want to make a deal.
God says his kingdom is forever—but we only want it for as long as we can use it.
God says all things belong to him. We hold our treasures tighter.
God stretches us. He does not stroke us. I don’t believe that God is particularly concerned about our happiness—but I do think God is very concerned about our holiness. He is concerned with our commitment, and not with our pleasure.
A math teacher doesn’t much care whether her students are happy on the night before a big test; what she cares about is whether her students are committed to learning math. Jesus is like that, too. He is not interested in being “king for a day”—but he does want to be Lord of our lives.
There are some things—some really important things—that can only be known through commitment. You will not know the joy of loving and being loved unless you are committed to the one you love. You will not know the satisfaction of serious accomplishment if you have not committed yourself to the challenge of attaining it. The long-term results of investing in your children—investing time, and investing care—probably will not be known until long after they have grown up.
Christian faith is like that, too. It only works well when it is a life-long commitment—one which leads us through all those moments when we are tempted to be less than God made us to be. The Bible is firm in its assertion that commitment is the way of faith.
Holy Week invites us to look deeper at the quality of our faith. The gospel story we hear on Palm Sunday challenges us to re-examine our own understanding of Jesus’ mission—and, also, to re-examine our commitment to him. It challenges us to ask ourselves: “Are we ‘all in’ for him?”
Or, to put it another way …
Have we made him Lord of our lives? Or just … king for a day?
2 The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson