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"Do You Know the Man?" A Sermon by Cassie Chee

The following sermon titled “Do You Know the Man?” (based on Mark 11:1-10, 15:9-15) was delivered by Cassie Chee to Pearl City Community Church on Palm Sunday 2021—12 days after a man killed eight people, including six Asian women, in Atlanta spas. (Excerpts of this sermon were published in the May 2021 issue of The Friend.)


(Watch and hear Cassie preach her sermon in this online worship service, beginning at 6:43 and 30:26.)


Full sermon text below:

“Whose lives do we find worthy of celebration? And whose lives do we find worthy of punishment?”


The first passage read for us this morning is from Mark 11 when Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jesus, who was not a Christian, but was Jewish, entered Jerusalem right before the Passover celebration. This ritual meal was, and today continues in the Jewish tradition, to celebrate God’s liberation of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. During Passover, it’s estimated that 2.5 million Jews would come from all over the region to the temple in Jerusalem in pilgrimage as part of that celebration. So Jesus was not entering Jerusalem alone, it was a time when Jerusalem was busy and loud and overflowing with Jews who were oppressed by the Roman empire, and desperately waiting for their God to come again as promised and deliver them.


It is clear that Jesus does not just enter at a significant time but he is intentional about the place and way that he enters in. In verse 1 we read that Jesus is approaching Jerusalem with his disciples from Bethany near the Mount of Olives. At that time the Jewish tradition and prophecies were common knowledge among the people. So when people saw and told others that Jesus was entering from East of Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives they would immediately see parallels to prophecy that we read now in the last chapter of Zechariah of signs the prophet names of the Lord and the day of the Lord’s coming. The prophet in Zechariah chapter 9 also prophecies: “see, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”


In our society today we often assume a lot about a person from what they are wearing, or what car they might drive. These things also had meaning in Jesus’ time.. In the midst of millions of Jews on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus makes preparations so that he can roll up to Jerusalem on a colt. He knew that as people saw him he would appear reminiscent of royalty, a King, and as one entering in humbly, on a colt.

So let me jump back to our first question: whose life do we find worthy of celebration? For these Jews entering Jerusalem, everything they heard and saw about Jesus made him worth celebrating. There is a song by Donald Lawrence about Jesus written from the perspective of the “ochlos” in Greek, which translates to the crowd or the people.

It goes:

"There is a stranger in town

He's giving sight to the blind

He is the great emancipator he turned water to wine

He even healed the 10 who was bound by disease

What matter of man is this whose voice can control the seas

Some say he is the great I AM the prophets spoke of

Some even say he’s emmanuel the son of God

This stranger, stranger, stanger

From Galilee"



Jesus was not a king from Jerusalem, he was born in Bethlehem from way out there in Galilee. And yet these people saw and told stories about this man who was healing people, was casting out demons, had the power to raise daughters from death, and spoke of the coming of God’s kingdom inclusive of all in love and forgiveness. This was Messiah, this was descendent of David, a King, this was a life worth celebrating.


At the church I grew up at, when I was a kid I remember on Palm Sundays all of us kids would get a Palm branch to be able to hold and wave around during the service. But later when I came to more of an understanding that when Jesus entered Jerusalem he was ultimately going to be killed, I was appalled that the same people who were celebrating Jesus would yell days later to crucify him.


Before we jump to the second part of our reading, Chapter 15, let’s talk a bit about what happened in between to shift this crowd of people to so drastically change their minds.


First, it feels important to note, that the ochlos, the crowds of Jewish people entering Jerusalem, were not the only ones watching Jesus: the religious leaders of the temple and the Roman empire soldiers had their eyes on him. While people who were outsiders to Jerusalem or oppressed by Roman empire, were excited about the possibility that Jesus was the new King they had been waiting for, these leaders saw Jesus as a threat.


There are many things Jesus does while he is in Jerusalem, but for the sake of time this morning, let me just highlight three. Jesus was a threat to both religious leaders and the Roman empire because he called out the ways practices within the temple had become oppressive to the poor, challenged the abuse of power by the religious leadership, and when asked about paying Roman taxes, implied that there is a more powerful kingdom under God. This was anti-empire rhetoric. Finally when asked which law was most important, Jesus answer is: love, of God and one another.


This power of love Jesus spoke of was so subversive and dangerous to the order that the religious leaders were used to that it was threatening them. So these leaders got together and arrested Jesus.


In chapter 15 we get a glimpse into Jesus on trial, which Pilate is facilitating. Let me bring our second question in conversation with this scripture: whose life do we find worthy of punishment? Pilate, an official of the Roman empire, sees the motivations of the chief priests for arresting Jesus as jealousy, and offers another custom of Passover, to pardon someone who is convicted. But instead, in verse 11 we see the priests stirring up the crowd to release Barabbas. Many scholars think that Barabbas was arrested for killing Romans during a previous Jewish revolt. So can you imagine how threatened these religious leaders and Romans must have felt by Jesus, if they would rather release a known murderer, and not just any murderer, a revolutionary Jewish murderer to the people. Here it is clear that these leaders find Jesus’ life worthy of punishment because he has created enough of a stir among the ochlos, among the crowds of people, that they are fearful of losing control,of another Jewish revolt.


In this passage we see that the power is with the people. In verse 15 Pilate releases Barabbas instead of Jesus because he wanted to satisfy the crowd. So why did this crowd of people, who days ago celebrated Jesus, demand for him to be crucified. Perhaps it was because of fear. In the previous Jewish revolt some estimates say that 2,000 Jews were crucified by the Roman empire. So these crowds of people, in Jerusalem a city not their own, among the eyes Roman soldiers, would feel that fear that if they did not follow the Romans their lives might be in danger instead. Another possibility is that the people felt angry at Jesus. If I had been listening to prophecies my whole life about how a King, the Lord God almighty, is supposed to show up and proclaim good news to the poor, set the captives free, I would be extremely disappointed and even angry at how seemingly easily Jesus was arrested. Perhaps in this mixture of fear, disappointment, and anger they also felt betrayed and thus felt Jesus deserved to be punished. In this moment of crisis that the Roman and religious leaders orchestrated, these crowds of people were pressured and tricked into believing that Jesus deserved punishment and death.


In the song that I mentioned earlier by Donald Lawrence about Jesus, the “stranger”, it is usually performed by a choir. And when the choir gets to the bridge they get into this dynamic conversation in which the different sections ask each other, “Do you know the man?” "Do you know the man?” and that is something I think we need to ask ourselves today. Do we know the man? Do we know Jesus, in his purpose and calling on us? Or do we only know those parts of him we find worthy of celebration?

These questions are important to ask right now because we need to look at where we might miss Jesus in our midst among those whose lives our society has deemed worthy of punishment.


Last week in Atlanta, Georgia eight people were murdered, six of them Asian American women and in a quote the murderer, said that he killed them because they were “a temptation he needed to eliminate.” These Asian women were deemed worthy of punishment for merely existing because they were considered to be a sexual temptation. This is heavy, so if you are feeling something in your body right now and need to step away please take care of yourself. If you are still with me here, I don’t want to let this rest as if it is just a far away tragedy that we are removed from.


We have a large tourism industry and military presence here in Hawai’i that puts Asian American and Pacific Islander women in danger because of how our bodies are exoticized and hypersexualized. Asian American and Pacific Islander women’s lives are not worthy of punishment simply for existing in proximity to military bases. For my Grandmas, Aunties, Mothers, and sisters this morning I want to speak to you for a minute to say: your are whole and your lives are worthy to be celebrated in all the parts, seen and unseen.


Let me bring this a little closer to home. Church, we need to begin to talk about how shaming women for how we dress, controlling women’s bodies by monitoring who we date, and who we sleep with, and keeping women in situations of abuse by claiming that women must obey their husbands are directly tied to what happened in Atlanta. Just as some of the temple practices and the religious leaders in Jesus’ time became twisted to oppress the poor we need to make it plain that churches today have been complicit in deeming women’s bodies, and particularly Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latina women’s bodies worthy of punishment.


The religious leaders and Roman empire pressured the people into punishing Jesus for existing in his life and his calling to love. We know that Jesus was undeserving of such a thing and today we have the opportunity as the ochlos, the crowd, as Pearl City community Church, to choose a different outcome. May we name, question, and challenge the ways we have all been complicit in the unrightful punishment of God’s people.


Amen.



Cassie Chee (she/her), is an Organizer with Faith Action for Community Equity in Honolulu and a 2021 Master of Divinity graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Her roots run through Korea, Okinawa, and China, and her Father’s side has called Hawai‘i home for many generations. Her family used to attend Pearl City Community Church.


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