“Be Careful What You Ask For”

Kurt Jacobson
6 min readMar 24, 2024

Palm Sunday

March 24, 2024

Mark 11:1–11

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 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. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Has anyone ever said to you, “Be careful what you ask for?” I am sure my parents said these words to me many times when I as a child. It is a cautionary reminder that one should think of the consequences of an action and be prepared for unexpected results which might be more than desired.

“Be careful what you ask for” comes to mind when I read the words of the first Palm Sunday. I wish the enthusiasm of this parade into Jerusalem was as easy as the crowd made it look. Today, we could use a triumphant parade. But this one is the doorway into Holy Week, the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, and it is not an easy week ahead.

There is more to this day than I can comprehend. Palm Sunday with its call to follow Jesus will result in abandonment and death. The feelings Palm Sunday kicks off are wide-ranging. Joy, anticipation, curiosity, dread, and fear. I want to trust and follow the way with the crowd, but I am not sure about the suffering and misery. Holy Week is about real life stuff and some days real life stuff is too much. The truth is I am always a bit ambivalent about Holy Week. Maybe you have questions and conflicted feelings, too. Can we take Holy Week seriously without them?

If we understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah and what triumph for him really looks like we might have some questions about carrying the palms. If we realize where this parade is going and what it will ask of us, we might want to pause and take another look.

We start this week with the crowd shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We finish it with Jesus giving a loud cry and breathing his last. Here at the start, a borrowed colt will carry Jesus to Jerusalem. At the finish, a borrowed passerby will carry his cross to Golgotha. It was Simon of Cyrene but it could have been anyone and it is meant to be everyone, us included. After all, Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark. 8:34).

Do you see how the pomp of Palm Sunday is not truly triumphant? Most churches now label this not just Palm Sunday but also the Sunday of the Passion. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem will also involve an exodus, an exit. The two cannot be separated.

There is a thrill to waving palms today and recalling the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Yet, we hear the hard words which follow about suffering and death. There is a part of me that wants to say, “Well which is it? Palms or passion?” The answer is, “Yes.” Every year this day reminds me that the answer is, “Yes.” It is both palms and passion. There is no quick or easy resolution to the palms and the passion. There is only the tension of the day. It is a difficult place to be.

We all have times that are big, life changing. I call them threshold moments. They are sometimes an opportunity to stop and consider what it is that we are getting into and ask, Am I ready for this? What will be required of me? Do I have what it takes? Is this really what I want? Am I prepared for what is to come? Can I see it through to the end? Palm Sunday is one of those days.

Today we should stop and think about what we are getting into and what it will take to prepare ourselves for what is to come. To walk through these days: the Last Supper, the shocking denials, the sham trial, the torture of Jesus, and the agonizing crucifixion, we know what is to come.

The Holy Week story is not one to be explained or understood. It is a story to be embodied and lived. So maybe today is a day to stop and look around at everything in the world today and then leave it for a while.

That is precisely what Jesus did. “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark. 11:11).

Only Mark tells us this. Matthew tells us Jesus enters and cleanses the temple, driving out those who bought and sold, and overturning the moneychangers’ tables. Luke has Jesus looking at Jerusalem and weeping over it and then enters the temple and drives out the den of thieves. In John’s account it is not clear if Jesus even enters the temple. Instead, the focus is on Him teaching about the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies. But not Mark. At the end of the donkey ride, when the cheering is over and the last cloaks and palms have been thrown down, Jesus enters the temple, looks around at everything, and then leaves.

It is a strange and anticlimactic ending to what is known as the triumphal entry. Maybe it is necessary. If that is what Jesus does maybe we should too. Maybe we need to look around at everything before we go any further into this week and then leave for a while.

The temple in Jerusalem was the center, the heart of Jewish life. This means that when Jesus entered the temple and “looked around at everything” he was looking into the very heart of the people.

Maybe that is our first step this week. Take a look around at the temple of your heart and the temple of humanity’s heart. See where there is heaviness or heartbreak. See where death and despair overshadow life. See the fears, the lingering grief, the persistent guilt. Take a look around at everything in your heart. Take a look at the very heart of humanity. That is what Jesus did.

I do not think Jesus just looked around at everything, turned away, and simply left. He looked at everything so that he might take it with him and carry it through this holy week, to the cross and the empty tomb.

So must we. Jesus left nothing behind. We should not either. What we refuse to look at and bring to this week cannot, by our own power, be healed, restored, renewed, re-created, or resurrected. So what will you carry into this week? What yearnings for resurrection will you carry for your life and the life of all humanity?

The triumphal entry is not about the donkey ride, the palms, or the hosannas. The triumph is in taking a look around at everything and leaving nothing behind as you follow the way to the cross.

Images: 1) Ed De Guzman “Palm Sunday” google art; 2) A Palm Sunday Painting by Kai Althoff — Mockingbird; 3) James Tissot (Nantes, France, 1836–1902)



Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.