'They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and He sat on it....Those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna!"' - Mark 11:7,9

One of the most exciting things about being an early follower of Jesus was the surprises such discipleship entailed. Things didn't happen exactly the way they were anticipated; people didn't always turn out to be the individuals others thought they should be.

We hear the first surprise unfolding in the Gospel passage proclaimed before we begin our annual procession into church (Mark 11:1-10). Mark describes an event which probably happened a half-dozen times on that particular day: a procession of pilgrims into Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover.

These visitors begin their trek at the top of the Mount of Olives, taking in the panoramic view of the Holy City as they tear olive branches off nearby trees and throw their cloaks on the road to create a "via sacra." Some instantly break into singing Psalm 118, with everyone lustily joining in the refrain: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Yahweh!"

Though every pilgrim believed he or she was the one coming into Jerusalem in Yahweh's name, the evangelist was convinced that on this particular day, an itinerant preacher named Jesus of Nazareth was the person who actually merited that title.

Not as pictured
But, if anyone dared think this carpenter could be the longed-for Messiah, He dashed their hopes by riding a donkey in the procession. In Jesus' day and age, the Messiah was thought to be a military figure, a person who would throw the hated Roman occupiers out of Palestine. That person would ride a horse, not a donkey, through Jerusalem's gate. What a surprise!

Ten years before the first Gospel was composed, Paul of Tarsus had already provided an unexpected and disturbing picture of Jesus, the Messiah. As he reminds his community in Philippi (Phil 2:6-11), though Jesus would eventually become "greatly exalted," He first "emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave" - certainly not the job description of a biblical Jewish Messiah.

Our first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7) tells us that Jesus wasn't the first of Yahweh's surprises. Deutero-Isaiah, the prophet responsible for chapters 40-55 of Isaiah, experienced some of those surprises in his own person and ministry. In this third "Song of the Suffering Servant," the prophet reflects on some of what happened when Yahweh opened his ears every morning to hear what God expected of him on that particular day.

Unlike many of his prophetic predecessors, he would be the comforter of his people, not their accuser. But though he consistently consoled them, they eventually tortured him, beating and spitting on him, even "plucking" the hairs of his beard - not exactly the treatment a consoler would have expected from those he consoled.

Our surprise
Perhaps the biggest surprise is reserved for us. As Mark's passion narrative is proclaimed (Mark 14:1-15:47), notice that, contrary to our Stations of the Cross, he describes Jesus' psychological sufferings much more than His physical suffering. (He doesn't even tell us that Jesus was nailed to the cross.)

Mark didn't compose these two chapters to have us "ooh and aah" over the physical pain Jesus endured to redeem us. His goal isn't just to show us how Jesus suffered and died for us. More than anything else, he wants to give us examples of how we, by imitating Jesus, are to die for others.

Like our mentor, we're to be faithful to one another in spite of betrayals, desertions and denials. We're constantly to give ourselves even when that giving is rejected and ridiculed. And we're to be conscious of the pain of others much more than our own pain.

There's never an end to the surprises lurking in Scripture, and always popping up in our own lives when we actually try to imitate Jesus' dying and rising.