The End of Ways and Means

Proclaimer: Emily Hull McGeee | Scripture: Matthew 21:1-17 | Sunday, April 2, 2023


We’ve spent this school year “on the way” with Jesus, examining the
ancient roads he walked, the paths toward God he proclaimed, the journey of
life and faith he invited people into, the lessons he shared along the way. Yet
when we talk about “the way” in America in 2023, we know that our
collective imaginations don’t just rest in this path of life that Jesus models.
We think of tenacity and grit. (“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!,” we say.)
We consider the purity of perspective. (“You can’t have it both ways!,” we
insist.) We sometimes shrug in realistic defeat. (“That’s just the way it is,” we
sigh.) Yet we rarely think about the way apart from the means, don’t we?

The way is the path, the steps we take to move from one place to
another. The means are how we get there. The way can become the ‘why’ –
the way of health, relationships, happiness, flourishing. The means are the
‘how’ – how we move from point A to point B, how we map it, and fund it, and
energize it, and make that way possible. When we put them together, “ways
and means” begin to describe all the mechanisms and methods and resources
by which we achieve success. In our government, the Committee on Ways
and Means are our tax-writers. In our daily lives, the “ways and means”
describe how we live.1


Ways and means were surely on the minds of Jesus’ disciples as they
readied for his arrival in Jerusalem. For Jerusalem was the Holy City, the
place of power and the home to the great King, as Jesus referenced to his
listeners on the mount. Although this would be Jesus’ first trip, the presence
of Jerusalem had loomed large throughout his life. Matthew tells us
Jerusalem had shaken with the birth of Jesus and would be thrown into
turmoil with his arrival now. Thousands of people have arrived into
Jerusalem for Passover, there to make their sacrifice to God. The city was
charged with energy. It’s here that opposition to Jesus was building, and here
where he will lament: “oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus will soon say, “the city
that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How I’ve wished to
gather your children like a mother hen gathers her brood, but you were not
willing.”2 The disciples wouldn’t have known it, but Jerusalem would be the
end of the way.

As we revisit this familiar story, I wonder if a clue to understanding this
ancient story of palms and processions is to shift our gaze away from Jesus
for a moment and land upon the people in his presence.

The first we meet are the two disciples on “donkey detail,” as my pastor
friend Dr. Darryl Aaron likes to say. Matthew tells us that just outside of
Jerusalem, Jesus asked them to go into the village ahead and fetch a donkey
and a colt. If asked about it, Jesus says to the disciples, tell them, “The Lord
needs them.” As we’ve learned over these months in Matthew’s gospel,
Matthew wrote with a keen eye looking back into Jewish history, tying tightly
the knot between the long-awaited Messiah and Jesus as the one who fulfills
the promises.

Then we hear from the crowds. That the humble Messiah atop a donkey
would ride into a tumultuous, electrifying city looking unlike any king they’d
ever known was sure to cause a stir. But these people – the “very large
crowd,” Matthew tells us – were raucous. Spreading their cloaks on the road,
waving the branches they’d grabbed from the trees, running alongside Jesus
with a cry: “hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who
comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!”

Two thousand years later, and our hosannas look joyful, don’t they?“All
Glory, Laud, and Honor” with the organ resounding through the room, our
processional giving a taste of the coming Alleluias for Easter. But let us
remember the original meaning that in just a word, “hosanna” juxtaposed
praise and deep need. “Hosanna — meaning, save us! Hosanna — meaning,
help us now!” All together in the simmering energy of Passover with Pontius
Pilate and his empire breathing down the necks of his people, the crowds
shouted hosanna to their humble hero,save usto their meek Messiah, liberate
usto their weak-yet-strong king. About this clash, Frederick Buechner writes
this: “Despair and hope. They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as
together they travel every road we take — despair at what in our madness we
are bringing down on our own heads, and hope in him who travels the road
with us and for us and who is the only one of us all who is not mad.”3


Despair and hope on the way. Pain and praise as our means. “Hosanna!,”
we cry. “Save us, Jesus! Rescue us, liberate us, set us free!”” Oh how we long
to surrender to the way of life, but oh how we refuse to relinquish our means.
After every mass shooting, we fill the airwaves and the feeds our thoughts
and prayers, yet our firearm fever will not break, for we refuse to beat our
guns into plowshares and learn war anymore, “deeply hypocritical,” as
theologian Miroslav Volf says, “about praying for a problem you are unwilling
to resolve.”4 With every increasingly-dire report on our warming, suffering
planet, we put a few more sheets of paper in the recycling bin and think
“something should be done!,” yet we change the channel and move on to the
next, for we refuse to give up the very things that make for our comfort.
When we come up against challenges to our long-held beliefs or new
understandings that are painful or difficult to confront, we ban the books and
legislate our hate, often in the very name of the God who created in radiant
diversity, each and every one of us bearing the divine image in our beloved
lives. “Save us from our means!,” we cry, “but don’t make us give them up!”

The end of ways and means doesn’t just descend on us in crowds, that
we know all too well. In our own hearts, we cry out:save usfrom the stubborn
anger that will not let us go or the terror that stuns us awake before dawn.
Liberate usfrom the secrets we think we must keep and the anguish we feel
doomed to carry. Rescue usfrom the relentless pace, the unyielding
exhaustion, the daily grind, the numbing addictions. Hosanna, Jesus!

And yet, we know what the crowds would soon figure out. Jesus rarely
saves us in the way we expect. Instead of bringing violence to Pilate, he
gathers with his friends for a meal. Instead of going to every limit to assure of
his innocence, he prays in the garden. Instead of freeing himself and those on
his left and right, he relinquishes: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
On this holy brink of what has been and what lies ahead, we wonder: what
does the Lord need from us now? And how will we surrender to that


A few weeks ago, one of my children was really struggling. A particular
item in their life had become a problem – once beloved, now betraying a
complicated relationship of fixation and overreliance. It dulled their vibrancy
and clouded their kindness, and it became clear to Josh and me that we
needed to make a change. On the night when we announced that we’d be
putting this item away for awhile, our child could only weep. No anger, no
protest, no denial, no bargaining – only tears. They needed no convincing of
the problem, only to be held in surrender and relief.

Friends, after months of movement, of traveling with Jesus on the way,
we have arrived with him here. Here is Holy Week. Here are our palms and
our tears, our praise and our lament. Here is God on a donkey, and the powers
of this world crucifying Love made flesh. Here is the table set and the table
overturned. Here is the betrayer and the basin, the presence and the
absence, the cross and the tomb. And here at the brink of the end, we are
greeted by a redeemer who receives it all.

As we wander down the road that Holy Week sets before us, may we
pay attention to the ways and means we bring. Notice the paths that lead to
dead ends, the detours that lead you away from the way of Life, shortcuts
that you squeeze through along the way. Look at the means you use, the
artifacts and commitments and resources that you think will bring you

In the holy days ahead, my prayer for you is that you hear the invitation:
‘the Lord needs your hosannas.’ The Lord needs your hosannas, friends,
because we need them too. The Lord needs your praise and your pain, all the
old cloaks and scratchy branches you can give him. The Lord needs your cold
and broken hosannas, for in them, you reach the end of your ways and means
and the beginning of his. You relinquish what you’ve been carrying. You trust
in the fullness of surrender. You draw courage from Jesus. You meet him with
bread and cup, you let him wash your feet, you grieve with him in the garden,
and beg mercy for him at the cross. You wait expectantly for what will be.

And as the road winds ahead to the cross, may you know that it is paved
with blessing. This road to the cross is prepared for the demonstrators and
the donkey-fetchers, the deniers and the betrayers, the delighted spectators
and the angry mobs, the grieved and the grieving, those in power and those
whom power abuses. This road to the cross welcomes children and youth,
middle-agers and seniors, you and you and you and me to move from the
sidelines into the street, linking arms together so that no matter the road, no
matter the trial, no matter the march or the cause, we walk it together,
shouting hosanna every step of the way.

For it’s all here at the end: the end of ways and means, an end that gives
way to the beginning of life everlasting.6