If you’ve ever asked a small child what they learned in church that day, you know you might get a deep theological truth, a funny story, or both. When our son was around 5, on Palm Sunday we did the normal, “So, what did you learn today?” parental questioning. He was carrying a small branch, so we expected to hear about Jesus riding on a donkey and people waving palm branches. Instead, our son said, “We learned not to poke anyone in the eye.” We smiled, even chuckled a little. And we’ve told that story now for years — it’s cute (at least it’s cute to his parents).
Why? Because it’s not what we expected. We expected him to tell us the Bible story, to share the facts. So we could make sure he was paying attention, building a solid Biblical foundation. We wanted him to tell us the flannel-graph version of the story of Jesus riding in on a donkey to large crowds shouting Hosanna and waving branches. We wanted to make sure he was getting the facts straight.
We’re good at facts. As I read the story I’m drawn in by the historical and cultural setting. The fact that Hosanna was more of a political chant for the overthrow of the Romans than it was a call for spiritual deliverance. The fact that waving a palm branch was like waving the national flag — that it became the symbol of freedom after the Hasmonean revolt.Or the fact that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, His people were in the process of selecting their Passover lambs, and He was in essence saying, “Here I am, pick me”. All of these facts can help us better understand Jesus, His words, and His expectations of those who follow Him. I can recite the facts of the story.
But sometimes we get caught up in the facts. We get caught up in knowing more, in understanding more clearly. And we forget that the purpose of knowing is becoming. To become more like Him, to not just have an intellectual knowledge about Him. To take His teachings, His interpretation about how to live out the Scriptures, His yoke, and apply it to today.
Jesus says the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul and strength. And that the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. In essence, the rest of Scripture is commentary on how to do that. As he rode that donkey into Jerusalem, He wasn’t looking for a crowd to shout Hosanna and wave palm branches. He just wanted to find a group of followers who had the faith of a child and who understood that you shouldn’t poke anyone in the eye.