Text: Mark 11: 1-10
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
I know what some of you are thinking…”I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been in church, but how did it get to be Palm Sunday?” You can relax, it is not Palm Sunday, even though the text I just read is a traditional one for that particular Sunday, I’m going in a little different direction with it today.
I think most of you would know what I’m talking about if I were to tell you that I take the Bible seriously, but not literally. I’ve said that before and I don’t believe it comes as any great surprise to any of you. As aa matter of fact, I would think that most of you also fall into that category; that is you also take the Bible seriously, but not literally. What I may not have told you is one of the major reasons why I prefer that approach to the Bible. You see, I believe this approach not only keeps you from painting yourself into a corner that you don’t want to be in – like having to support the idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old for example. But this approach is also a lot more creative and a lot more fun when you begin to study scripture in depth. I think the text I just read is a good example of this.
By taking the Bible seriously, but not literally it opens up for you the chance to ask the question why a certain scripture might be written the way it is. In the text that I just read, the colt that Jesus requested is tied up. If you check the other synoptic Gospels, that is the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, you will find that they too have the colt tied up. This is likely because both Matthew and Luke were using Mark as a source for their Gospels and they didn’t see any real reason to change it. But why would Mark have the colt tied up?
Of course, if you are a literalist, the colt was actually tied up, and this is the way it was and the Bible is just reporting what was. How boring! I actually think Mark made a decision to have the colt tied up in his story. But the question becomes why? Without this flexibility of understanding, you never get to ask the question why; and asking why is critical, I believe, to good basic Bible study.
So here’s the deal; in Zechariah 9:9 there is a prophecy that the Gospel writers wanted Jesus to fulfill. In that scripture, it says that the king will come riding on the foal of a donkey. Here is the actual text, so we can take a look at it:
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.
OK, our Gospel writers wanted Jesus to fulfill this portion of scripture, I get that. But the scripture doesn’t say anything about the donkey being tied up, it doesn’t say anything about how Jesus was to come into possession of that particular donkey it doesn’t really even say that Jesus was going to ride it into Jerusalem. So you can see that our Gospel writers had to fill in a few blanks. There may have been some oral tradition around this story; there may have been information in Q that we don’t know about; but what is most likely is that most of this story came out of the imagination of the author of Mark. I think that is exciting, because it allows us to ask questions and draw meaning and metaphor from the text that otherwise would not be there.
So I have given you a little background information with regard to this text, but we have not yet talked about why Mark may have had the colt tied up and the disciples were instructed to untie it.
This is a great metaphor; the very act of untying something is metaphorically very powerful. If you were going to begin a great journey at sea, just about the very last thing to happen before you cast off is that you would be untied. Even a huge cruise ship when it docks, gets tied up. The ship cannot leave the harbor until it is untied.
There are a lot of people who own small aircraft, private airplanes that seat maybe 2 or 4 sometimes as many as 6 people. Not everyone who owns a plane has indoor storage available for their plane. So they have to park their airplane outside on the tarmac somewhere. When an airplane is parked for any length of time, it is tied down. A strong wind can easily get under the wings and simply tip it over causing a great deal of damage to the plane; so they tie it down. Once again, if you are going to leave in your airplane, you would need to untie it first.
You get the point; or at least I hope you do. The act of untying is a metaphorical act of freeing Jesus to begin a new journey, to set sail, to soar the heavens-no longer held back by being tied to ancient Judaism. The adherence to the law, the ancient rituals, the overbearing tradition; all the things that Jesus sought to reform about ancient Judaism, the act of untying the colt could be considered metaphor as the actual release from those things.
I think it is possible that the authors of Matthew and Luke, when they read Mark’s version of this story, they may have made the decision to change a detail here and there, but they left the untying in. They left it in for a reason and I think the symbolism of being untied is a strong enough metaphor that it may be the reason they left it in. Of course we will never know.
But if you are a literalist, the colt was simply tied up, they untied him and that is the end of the story and the end of the interpretation. What fun is that?
I want to make one more quick point. How many of you when you first saw the title of this sermon actually thought that “untied” was a typo and it really should read A United Methodist? I kind of did that on purpose just to keep you on your toes. After considering all the things that being untied might have meant for Jesus in a metaphorical sense, I think it may be just as appropriate for us to think about the advantages of being untied Methodists as well.
What would it mean if we became untied Methodists? And that of course is food for thought.