Palm Fronds and Fickle Hearts

As a kid, I was consistently thrown for a loop by the events of what Christians have traditionally called “Holy Week.” On one day, throngs of Jews are celebrating Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem. A few days later, they demand his death. And my immature little brain could not grasp what happened during that week.

On the Sunday before the Jewish celebration of Passover, Jesus entered Jerusalem, according to the New Testament. His arrival came on the heels of him raising a man from the dead, and the requisite hubbub that would accompany such an event followed him into the city. Jerusalem’s people were beyond exciting about his arrival and welcomed him by waving palm branches (a nationalistic symbol) and shouting messianic phrases. They saw Jesus as their new, conquering king. They expected Jesus to take control of Jerusalem and liberate them from Roman oppression.

However, as the week progressed, Jesus did not live up to their expectations, at least not in the ways they hoped. According to the Gospels, Jesus had multiple conflicts with the Jewish leaders during the following days. He confronted and decimated the institutions which hindered non-Jewish people from worshipping in the Temple. He did not take up a physical throne. He did not overthrow the Romans. He did not live up to their expectations.

In my adult years, I have become convinced this is the reason they turned on him by the end of that week. Jesus was not who they wanted him to be. And because he didn’t fulfill their short-sighted expectations, they, along with the Roman authorities, had Jesus executed. He was what they needed, not what they wanted. So, they killed him.

Over the past few years, Palm Sunday has become and important occasion for personal reflection for me as I consider these things. I am challenged by how quickly and severely the people turned on Jesus, specifically how they did so due to him not fulfilling their expectations of him. As I reflect, I don’t do so from a place of removed judgment. I don’t think less of those people for their fickle ways. And this is because, truthfully, that same fickle heart lives in me.

How many times have I questioned God’s faithfulness, goodness, or love because, in some way, he didn’t fulfill my short-sighted expectations? How many times have I “thrown him under the bus” for not giving me what I want? Too many to count, honestly.

Now, I don’t ever wish harm on God. I am not a first century Jew living under Roman oppression, desperately waiting for a messianic king to show up and save the day. No, my fickleness looks different. It looks more like letting myself fall into a funk when Jesus does not do what I want him to do for me, when life doesn’t appear to be lining up with how I think it should be. My fickleness looks like the times when I isolate myself from connection with him and others in order to waddle in my self-pity. And while my childish, selfish responses to not getting what I want may not look like cries to crucify Jesus, they are every bit as ugly. I hate that this is the truth about my heart.

I hate to tell you this, but that fickle heart lives in you too. I invite you to join me in reflecting on this dynamic God comes to us and longs to give us what we need, and that does not always align with what we want from him. Let’s choose to live in that tension today. Let’s ask God to have his way, regardless of our desires.

Such a request is an act rooted in trust, and trust is the ultimate issue in this entire dynamic. The Jews turned on Jesus because they did not trust that he knew what was best for them. They wanted what they wanted. We have fickle hearts because we don’t trust that God is good, that he is for us, that he loves us deeply. As we reflect upon these things, may we see God more clearly and may our trust in him grow deeper roots. May we then wave our palm fronds as we welcome him into our moments, the hard, easy, bad, and good ones. And may we then learn to bow the knee to the coming King, knowing full well that he is worthy of our trust and our whole hearts.

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