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Zechariah 9:9-10, and Matthew 21:1-11
Rev. Dr. Herman C. Waetjen
April 4, 2004

How many hats do you wear? I donít mean how many hats do you have in your closet that you wear one at a time. How many hats do you wear at one and the same time? Most of us, if not all of us, wear one hat at a time. But sometimes I hear people stating that they wear two hats or maybe even three or four at one and the same time.

If Iím a literalist, I picture them walking around wearing all these hats of different shapes, sizes and colors piled on top of each other. But Iím not always a literalist. I generally know when people are speaking literally or figuratively. So when I hear or read about people claiming to wear two or more hats at the same time, I try to imagine how those hats might be related in shape, size, and color to the positions or offices which those hats symbolize. What would be the shape and color of a hat a woman figuratively wears to represent her position as a manager of a department store or an associate in a law firm? And what would the hat look like that might represent her role as wife or mother? What size, what type and what color hat might signify a manís office as a vice president of an engineering company? And what kind of hat would express his role as husband or father? Some hats represent a personís professional identity: a professor, a doctor, a carpenter or a mechanic. Some hats signify a particular office that a person holds, such as: mayor, supervisor, foreman, treasurer, president.

The Gospels of the New Testament portray Jesus wearing many different kinds of hats, and they usually appear in the form of titles: "the Son of Man," "the Son of God," "Messiah," "the Son of David," "Lord," "the Prophet," "the Word." Some of these titles express his identity; others convey a role he plays or an office he holds. Usually only one title is used at a time. Peter can confess Jesus as "the Christ," and thereby give expression to the office he holds as the designated king of Israel. Jesus can refer to himself as "the Son of Man," and thereby identify himself as a new human being. Titles are like hats! They convey a sense of identity, and they also specify a particular office.

The Evangelist Matthew uses the Palm Sunday story to dramatize the hats Jesus wore during his career. He presents Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two donkeys at the same time! Try to imagine that! And if you donít believe it, let me read that part of the story again: "The disciples led the donkey and the colt and they placed their garments on them and he, Jesus, sat over them." This is a momentous occasion in his career! Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, has finally come, and he is entering the capital city of Jerusalem accompanied by a large welcoming crowd of people. Like Israelite kings before him, he is riding to his coronation. Not on a horse or a mule! But on a donkey! That is unprecedented! No ancient king of Israel ever entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey! At the same time, however, he is also seated on another animal, a colt. Nothing like this has ever happened before! If there had been newspapers in those days, can you imagine what the front page might have looked like?

But Matthew is not giving us a reporterís account of what happened on that first Palm Sunday. He is not being factual. He is more interested in communicating the meaning of this event. In Mark, Luke and John, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seated on a donkey. That is in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9.

"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."
Ancient Israelite kings rode horses and mules to their coronation. Jesus, although he has been triumphant and victorious throughout his ministry by conquering demons, opening the eyes of the blind, healing the sick and raising the dead, (he) rides an animal that denotes humility, a donkey. But Matthew adds a second beast, a colt, which he apparently derived from this same fulfillment quotation. It would be easy to conclude, as many translators and commentators have, that Matthew simply misunderstood the poetic parallelism of Zechariah. But the second animal on which Jesus is riding is more than a colt, the foal of a donkey. The Evangelist has revised the quotation from Zechariah slightly and turned the colt into the offspring of a pack animal, a beast of burden.

Why tell the Palm Sunday story in this whimsical manner? Why present Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two animals: a donkey and a pack animal? This is simply Matthewís dramatic way of telling us that Jesus is wearing two hats at the same time. When we talk about people wearing two hats at the same time, we may wonder, as I said earlier, what those hats look like. What shape, size, and color might convey a personís professional identity as a professor or a lawyer or the office of vice president of a corporation? The two animals in Matthewís story of Palm Sunday symbolize the two different identities Jesus bears, and the offices that are based on those identities.

The first and foremost identity of Jesus is based on his virgin birth and his generation by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is a new human being who has been created in Maryís womb by the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of Matthewís Gospel we are told:

"While his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit." (1:18)
Generated by Godís Spirit and born from Mary, Jesus bears the identity of a new human being. Joseph was not involved in his conception. Like Adam, he is Godís Son. And like Adam he is the beginning of a new humanity. Jesus refers to this identity when he uses the title, "the Son of Man." Joseph, however, in obedience to the command of the angel, adopts Jesus, as Matthew 1:25 indicates: "He (Joseph) called his name Jesus." That is the ancient form of adoption; and Jesus, as a result of Josephís adoption, is connected to Josephís family tree and the history of Israel. Accordingly, Jesus becomes the bearer of the title with which the angel addressed Joseph, namely, " Son of David;" and that identifies him with Davidís royalty.

So Jesus really has two origins: generated by the Holy Spirit, and adopted by Joseph. Accordingly, these two origins give him two identities, and Jesus expresses these identities as he rides two animals at the same time. He is wearing two hats. One is the hat of "the Son of Man, " who at the same time is "the Son of God." The other is the hat of royalty, the hat that represents his identity as the Son of David, the Messiah. Both of these identities involve Jesus in vocational activity. Even as the identity of doctor involves the practice of medicine, Jesusí identity as the New Human Being draws him into the role of a servant of God who heals. Even as the identity of king involves the activity of ruling, Jesusí identity as the Son of David will draw him into the administration of justice.

On this Palm Sunday Jesus is entering Jerusalem to be crowned as the King of Israel. The first animal, the donkey, symbolizes his royal office as the Messiah, the Son of David. Jesus is the triumphant and victorious king who in humility is riding a donkey to his coronation. Ironically his coronation will take place when he is elevated on the cross, but in his death as the King, he will administrate Godís justice and conquer death. The second beast, the pack animal, represents the identity that results from his virgin birth. By riding an animal under yoke, Jesus expresses his self-understanding, as the New Human Being - the Son of God; who, by accepting the yoke of servanthood, will take our sins on his back and carrying them into the oblivion of divine judgment.

As dramatic and whimsical as Matthewís Palm Sunday story of Jesusí triumphal entry into Jerusalem is, its ultimate purpose is to convey to you and me the two hats that are awarded to us as a result of the two vocational roles that Jesus will fulfill through his death and resurrection. The two hats are like the two donkeys. We, as his disciples, will wear the hats that these animals represent. That is, we will wear both hats by the time we reach Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. These two hats will represent who we are and what role or office we are called to discharge. The first expresses our identity as new human beings, "chips off the old Divine Block," Godís beloved daughters and sons. The second hat stands for our identity as sinners! And the two hats are always to be prioritized in that way! First and foremost, the hat that represents us as new human beings who are Godís beloved daughters and sons! Secondarily, and always secondarily, the hat we wear as disciples who are sinners following Jesus into his crucifixion on Good Friday.

Think of a spectrum of color! On the one end is the heavenly color blue, and that is the color that represents our identity as Godís daughters and sons. God gives birth to us through the creative activity of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we belong to Godís New Family. Our inheritance as members of this New Family is everlasting life. We shall live forever! That hat involves us in the vocation of servanthood. Our role is to serve as Godís hands, Godís feet, and Godís mouth in order to communicate the Good News of Godís New Family through our deeds and words.

On the other end of the spectrum of color is the color red. It represents our identity as sinners, but sinners whom God has destined for royalty through Jesusí sacrificial death on the cross. By following Jesus to his coronation on the cross, we are more than mere bystanders. His crucifixion is our crucifixion. His coronation is our coronation. As Jesus himself said,

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."

Whether we prefer hats or donkeys or colors to represent our identities and their corresponding offices doesnít matter, as much as which of the two we prioritize. Which hat or color do we put on first? It is easy and comfortable to put on the hat of our identity as sinners first. We can do that as we accompany Jesus to his coronation on the cross, but if we let ourselves be crucified with him, we will reach the end of our identity as sinners. And if we follow Jesus all the way into Easter and participate in his resurrection, we will have been recreated by Godís Spirit to become New Human Beings. Once we reach Easter and participate in Jesusí resurrection, the hat that has priority is the one that represents our membership in Godís new family. Of course, we still have to put on the other hat, the one that expresses our identity as sinners, because we havenít left our sinful nature behind completely. But that is the hat we put on top of our sainthood. We continue to be sinners, but we are nevertheless moving toward the realization of our royalty by being crucified with Christ?

Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorneís novel, THE SCARLET LETTER, wore the brilliantly embroidered letter A on her clothing, and everyone in the community knew that it stood for "adulteress." But as time went by, and she engaged herself in community service: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and visiting the sick, people began to believe that the letter A signified "Able." Some even imagined it meant "Angel." Thatís still another way of referring to our two identities and their roles or offices at the two ends of the spectrum of our Christian humanity. We wear the gloriously embroidered letter S. We are Saints, and we are Sinners; and both have a future. We wear two hats to express our Christian self-understanding.

On this Palm Sunday we join the crowd that is welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem by singing, "Hosanna to the son of David," and by waving palm branches to signify the victory that he will gain in his coronation on the cross. When we reach Good Friday, we will join him in the defeat of death. And when we reach Easter, we will be incorporated into the New Humanity that he will establish by his resurrection from the dead. Consequently, for the rest of our earthly life we will be wearing two hats at the same time, expressing our Christian identity through our vocational activity by our deeds and our words.

Copyright © 2003, Westminster Presbyterian Church of Tiburon