It’s really interesting to teach kids who’ve never been exposed to Palm Sunday what it is. There are so many parts to the story that have lost their freshness in my eyes. I’ve come to accept them because I’ve heard the story over and over. Before going through a lesson with my bible study 2nd and 3rd graders about Palm Sunday, I tried to anticipate every part of the story that was bound to create confusion. Boy, was I wrong.
So, Jesus was coming back to Jerusalem and he rode a donkey (which he borrowed without really asking) into Jerusalem. People put palms on the ground as he passed.
I spent a lot of time talking to the kids about why it was respectful for the disciples to put their clothing on the donkey for Jesus to sit on top of their clothing. I also spent a lot of time explaining why making a pathway for Jesus with palms was respecting and honoring him.
At some point in the class I realized that a crucial piece was missing. They didn’t know WHAT a palm is. Palms are like big pieces of grass. Who hasn’t seen a landscaping worker using those giant blowers to blow off a side walk of excess grass, leaves, etc. To us, a clean sidewalk is actually a sign of respect. We tend to think a business respects us by keeping their parking lot/ entrance clean. Cue me needing to explain to the kids that in Jesus’ time, there were no paved roads so the ground was dirt.
When you think of the laying down of the palms as not practical and just a symbolic form of respect, it’s even harder to understand. That’s like saying that when I want to thank or praise a good professor, I put a table cloth on my desk while I’m sitting in their class.
Other concerns my students had: Why did Jesus steal a donkey? My kids aren’t your average kids since they’ve experienced situations in their lives that even I have never had to endure. Many have seen the crime of theft first hand and that theft is often carried out by manipulation such as “saying its yours even when it’s not”. I told my kids that the owner of the donkey was expecting the donkey to be borrowed and was happy to have it borrowed by Christ. I needed to explain that this was not simply a case of “borrowing” and the owner just so happened not to mind. We glaze over this but there’s a magical element of the spirit here that we can articulate and reflect on.
The last and most pressing confusion that I have often overlooked for the start to holy week is the confusion that comes with Jesus’ reception into Jerusalem contrasting with what would happen a week later. Everyone was so excited for his entry, celebrating and praising him. A week later, he is sentenced to death and heinously crucified. Excuse me, what? I think that my generation can readily accept this. In the early days of the internet and social media, public sentiment was easily shaped by effective online media usage. People would jump on the band wagon based on the opinion of the latest article they read. Everything looked official and we equated official-looking with factual.
However, these kids are born in the 2000s. They don’t know a time without internet, without information at their fingertips, without an abundance of information from every corner of every debate. They don’t know a time when anyone with a computer/smartphone could quickly and easily speak out against the media promoting a viewpoint they didn’t agree with and the news media acknowledged/supported/ listened to the opinions of their viewers/readers. I had a kid this weekend accuse me of being a liar because I told him I was older than Google.
I am encouraged that my kids were confused that public sentiment about Jesus seemed to shift from “We love you!” to “Crucify him!” within a week. You might think that social media would promote an ever nimble style of public opinion, shifting and molding with every popular blog post. But, in fact, that’s not the case. Because of the interactive form that news media is now taking, the headlines/ popular opinion is closer to actual equilibrium of where that opinion would be without media influence. These kids expect that. They expect that if the popular sentiment was going to be “Crucify him” then surely someone would have spoken out against palm Sunday before it happened. They expect that someone would have spoken up when Jesus was being sentenced and said “hey, remember a week ago when we loved him” enabling other scared/silent Jesus- supporters to jump on the bandwagon.
Sure, the media has a lot of negatives. I’ll definitely be the first to admit that. But, there’s an upside that’s even more apparent when you talk to kids who don’t know any other way. Technology has allowed voices to speak up (with less bravery and resources required to do so). This has created a culture for the kids where “speaking up” is the norm and that translates beyond technology to real life, where they are willing to ask questions that I never would have dared to like why Jesus seemed to steal a donkey.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16
We use scripture to teach kids about God’s nature and love but there are elements that, as adults who have been conditioned by culture, we don’t realize are being misinterpreted or lost on them. When they speak up, it improves their use of scripture and that snowballs and spreads so that the general level of scriptural interpretation is changed and this hopefully will facilitate the creation of even more disciples for Christ. Happy Palm Sunday!