On the Radical Nature of Servanthood

On the Radical Nature of Servanthood

On the Radical Nature of Servanthood
March 24, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Psalm 118: 26-27
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

John 12: 12-19
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Today’s sermon is titled On the Radical Nature of Servanthood. Whether this is your first, your fifth or your fiftieth Palm Sunday, I hope we can experience it as if it were the first time for all of us because there is much to be learned from this ancient narrative. Let’s begin by imagining the tenor of the times. It is Passover week in Jerusalem and the city is bustling with people who have come from far and wide to the temple. The occupying Roman forces are on guard against any attempt at a rebellion because the Roman forces are far outnumbered by the Jewish population every day of the year, but especially now. The Romans are only able to maintain control with the help of a critical mass of the temple priests. There is tension among the temple priests, as well, and there are two main sources of their tension. One source is named John, the other, Jesus. John, known as “the Baptiser” has been executed; his followers are bereft, and some, surely, are angry and may be seeking revenge. John’s cousin, Jesus, has been traveling far and wide, preaching, teaching, and healing all manner of physical and mental illnesses. His following has been steadily growing and now, just days before the beginning of Passover, news has reached Jerusalem that the impossible has come to pass. A man, said to have been dead for days, has been called from the tomb by Jesus of Nazareth. What could be a clearer sign that he is the long-awaited Messiah?
Underneath all of this tension over current events, there also simmers the slow-burning tension of a people oppressed. For nearly 100 years, the Romans have occupied the land. The tax burden has grown steadily over the decades to a crippling weight and the people are understandably resentful and increasingly desperate for liberation. As it is within any population oppressed, there arose a militant faction known as the Zealots who trained physically for combat and planned for the overthrow of the Empire. One of Jesus’s followers, Simon the Zealot, would have given some the impression that the overthrow of the Empire was part of Jesus’s mission.
What could be a better time to undermine the Empire than during Passover, when the Jewish people celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt? What could be a better time to push back against the imperial rule that had little-to-no regard for Jewish life and culture? Into this hotbed of tension Jesus comes, riding on the colt of a donkey. Some of the people may have remembered the words of the prophet Zechariah who recorded his visions of a coming king: “Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” If the people were unfamiliar with the words of the prophet, the temple priests surely were intimately familiar.
Jesus’s threat to the status quo was amplified in how he was received by the people. They honored him by laying palm branches before him. This happened once before in Jerusalem, 200 years before, when Judas Maccabeus, nicknamed “The Hammer,” liberated Jerusalem from another occupying power, the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucids had come from the north and west, invading Jerusalem, taking over the temple, erecting a statue of Zeus and killing Jerusalem residents by the thousands. Judas Maccabeus led the rebellion that defeated the invaders. Judas Maccabeus was welcomed into the city with palm branches and jubilant celebrations because the people had been freed and their temple had been restored and reconsecrated. The palms became a significant symbol of liberation when Judas Maccabeus, after he was made King, embossed all coins with an image of a palm branch so the people would remember.

The people do remember. And there is good reason now to hope again for liberation, for freedom, for a savior. The people begin to shout, “Hosanna!”
This week, I learned that “Hosanna” is a Greek translation of a Hebrew word ,הושיעה נא (hôšîʿâ-nā) that has two parts: יָשַׁע- “yasha” which means “to save or deliver” and אָנּאָ – “anna” which means “please, I beseech.” Even in Arabic we find a similar translation of the word ʾōshaʿnā ܐܘܿܫܲܥܢܵܐ meaning “save, rescue.” Jesus entered Jerusalem and the people shouted, “Save us! Please, save us!” We find in our reading today that upon seeing the people welcoming Jesus and begging for liberation, the temple priests say to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”
The people were hoping for a king to save them by overthrowing the Empire but Jesus was a servant, not a king. Jesus was a servant, willing to give his life to prove that there is a force greater than evil, greater than sin, greater even than death. Jesus was a servant and on this Palm Sunday of 2024, we are in dire need of his radical example. We could all use to be reminded that Jesus’s model of leadership was to serve, to heal, and to lead by example. As followers of Jesus, we are called to serve, to heal, and to lead by example. We are not called to establish a Christian nation. In fact, to do so would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Before protections for free speech, before protections for freedom of the press and freedom to peaceably assemble, in the very first sentence of the first amendment we read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” We are not called to establish a Christian nation. We are called to govern ourselves, and in using our vote we may choose those who govern on our behalf by the same standards that Jesus set for humanity. Jesus calls us to serve one another, to be a force that heals, and to lead by example. Serve one another as Jesus served, giving the best of ourselves in all we say and do. In all our relationships, be a force that heals, a force that unifies, a force that repairs. Lead by example, the example set for us by Jesus, who centered his life around service to God and service to love, with no exceptions.
As we enter into Holy Week tomorrow, I hope we will take pause and remember the radical example of servanthood we are offered in the life of Jesus. I hope and pray we will take pause and listen for the cries of “Hosanna” that are being raised still; they are cries for liberation…cries for liberation that come from living under the threat of gun violence in the public square; from those desperate to make a living wage; from those who are sick and tired of being seen for the color of their skin instead of the content of their character; from those who flee impossible conditions in the country of their birth in search of security and opportunity; from those caught in the violence of war, facing death at every turn.
In closing, it seems appropriate to end with a few moments of silence…silence in honor of a love so limitless that not even death could overcome it…silence that allows the voices of those still crying for liberation to be heard…
“For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). Amen.
Pastoral Prayer
God of Grace, we pray for Your healing light to shine on us this morning. May our bodies and our minds and the depths of our souls be illuminated by Your brilliance. With You working in and through us, we are limitless; help us to love with a divine love that leaves no room for fear. Help us to access knowledge beyond our knowing, so that as we follow Christ we carry His wisdom within us. May we be the peace that overgrows violence. May we be the caring that overgrows apathy. May we be the welcome that overgrows isolation. God, we pray your healing light upon our world and upon every brother and sister in the family of humanity. In sensing our worth as recipients of Your love, may we become more able to love one another. This we pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.


I leave you with these words from Romans, chapter 15, verse 13:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”