Discussion Starter || Matthew 21:1-17 (18-46)

Read Matthew 21:1-17 (18-46) (CEB, NRSV, MSG, KJV, Compare).

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of hosanna (Save us!) is attested to in each of the four gospels.

Have you heard this story before? If so, when you think about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, what comes to mind?  What images do you think of?

On Palm Sunday, what traditions do you typically look forward to?

Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem is unique in at least two ways.  These adaptations (some might even claim contradictions with the other gospels) in Matthew’s story continue to move Matthew’s argument forward: Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.  Just as Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ birth is laced with prophecy, so is his entrance into Jerusalem.

On what does Jesus ride into Jerusalem?  Unlike kings and soldiers, Jesus rides on a donkey in Jerusalem.  Or was it a colt?  Or was it both?  In Matthew, Jesus rides on both a donkey and a colt.  While the logistics of this are hard for me to wrap my head around, Matthew’s Jesus rides both a donkey and her colt (or foal) into Jerusalem in fulfillment of the scriptures (see Zechariah 9:9).

His arrival “stirred up the city” (21:10).  The people were “hootin’ and hollerin’” around him, cutting down palm branches and laying them before Jesus.  The crowds caused such a raucous that people began to ask, “Who is this?”

In what ways do you celebrate (make a raucous about) the arrival of Jesus into your life?  Does your celebrating lead people to ask what or who you are celebrating?

Upon arriving in the city, Jesus entered the temple.  And, in a fit of furry (reminiscent of the prophets of old—Isaiah and Jeremiah), Jesus overturns tables, disrupts the commerce going on, and proclaims, “It’s written, My house will be called a house of prayer.  But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks” (21:13).  This too aligns with the scriptures (see Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11).  With commerce stopped, Jesus welcomes the blind and lame into the temple (from which they were normally barred from entering) and he heals them.  So often we think of Jesus cleansing the temple as being about commerce.  It might be better understood as a removal of barriers to worship.  By cleansing the temple, Jesus makes God’s house that which it is supposed to be.  God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples says the Lord God, who gather’s Israel’s outcasts.  I will gather still others to those I have already gathered” (Isaiah 56:7d-8).

Is there anything we do that keeps people from participating in God’s house?  How can we help make God’s house, a house of prayer for all?

Sunday, March 29, 2020 || Discussion Starter

Today’s Reading: Matthew 18:1-14 (CEB, NRSV, MSG, KJV, Compare)

In 1999, Kenny Rogers released the song, “I Am the Greatest.”  It is about a boy who believes himself to be the greatest baseball player ever.  He tells himself over and over that he is the greatest.  He picks the ball up and pitches to himself, expecting to hit the ball out of his imaginary field.  He ends up striking himself out.  The song ends with:

Now it’s suppertime and his momma calls,
Little boy starts home with his bat and ball.
Says, “I am the greatest, that is a fact,
But even I didn’t know I could pitch like that!”
Says, “I am the greatest, that is understood,
But even I didn’t know I could pitch that good!”

from “I Am the Greatest” by Kenny Rogers

The little boy wanted to be the greatest, but his definition of what it meant to be great had to change.

In today’s reading, Jesus does much the same: he redefines greatness for the disciples.

How do you define greatness?  How is greatness defined in the culture around you?

Greatness is often defined by wealth, power, money or access to other resources.  These things very often define what it means to be secure and successful and powerful.  Jesus challenges this idea of greatness by pointing to a child and saying, “those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:4).

What does it mean to be humble?

In 1733, John Wesley published a small book entitled A Collection of Forms of Prayer, For Every Day in the Week.  The book offered daily morning and evening prayers and reflection questions about one’s spiritual and relational health.  The morning questions were consistent throughout the week.  The evening questions changed daily.  The questions for Tuesday evening related to humility.  Here are a few questions, written by Wesley, for you to consider as you seek to be the greatest in God’s kingdom by being humble:

  • Have I labored to conform all my thoughts, words, and actions to these fundamental maxims: “I am nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing?”
  • Have I ascribed to myself any part of any good which God did by my hand?
  • Have I desired the praise of [others]?
  • Have I taken pleasure in it?
  • Have I despised any one’s advice?