Hey You

An essay for Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday

by Dr. Kenneth W. Regan, Easter+Passover 2012 after Easter 2011

On Palm Sunday, the crowds on the road into Jerusalem shouted:

Hosha 'na, Ben-David!
They were accosting the Son of David with a plea to "Save us." The Hebrew root of hosanna is not by itself a word of praise or triumph, but the same root for "save" as in Jesus' name itself. In Hebrew Jesus' name is Yeshua, which is related to Yehoshua, Joshua, with the same meaning "God is salvation." The "sh" sound was already changed to "s" in some dialects of Hebrew, as the Bible itself records. The Greeks had only the "s" sound, and this plus their penchant for adding a final non-hissed 's' turned the name into Iesous, whence our Jesus. The "e" in "Yeshua" is voiced long, somewhere in the triangle formed by "eh", "ee", and "ay", but in "Yehoshua" it is an unvoiced schwa, which seems to influence the current spelling "Y'shua". There is also a latter-day move for Yah[o]shua using the "Yah" form of God found as a suffix in Biblical Hebrew. The "ho" here and in "Yehoshua" goes with God, while in "hosha" it's an imperative form replacing the "y" which comes before the "sh[u]a" part in "saves".

That leaves the 'na'. This essay is about the 'na'.


The 'na' intensifies the plea. In the one occurrence of Hosha'na in the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 118:25, it is often rendered "now", as in "Save us now!", though the NRSV used by the oremus Bible browser says "we beseech you", and later sources say simply "please". But even as "please", it is please! And perhaps it is even less genteel than "please!" used to hail the fifth taxicab on a crowded New York street in the rain.

All four Gospels tell of Jesus walking then comandeering a donkey colt at Bethphage on the way into Jerusalem, riding as the crowd bedecked His path with garments and living branches. John tells us that the people had heard the miracle of raising Lazarus, and in all accounts there is acclaim. In Luke it is the disciples who lead songs of praise, drawing rebuke from religious onlookers at the din.

Matthew relates that later, to Jesus in the Temple, children repeated the Hosha'na, and in fulfillment of Psalm 8:2, Jesus called this praise. But when the 'na' was coming from the grown-ups, and being one myself, I am not so sure. In Matthew 21:8--11 and Mark 11:8--11, the Complete Jewish Bible has the grown-ups saying:

You in the highest heaven! Please! Deliver us!

The hailing I hear here is more noodgy than for that taxicab. I hear the 'na' as Hey You!


Now it is Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil. I have long wondered what emotions one should communicate on this day. Hope? Sadness? Expectation? Devastation? Merely reverent silence? Confidence in tomorrow? Can we say "Happy Vigil"? I see nothing premature in wishing Happy Easter to friends across the waters. But here and now, which feeling to have? I will make a strange suggestion born of going there, back to Jerusalem thirty-something years after Jesus was born. And the emotion I find there is anger.


Anger. When I go there, I am not a disciple---I am one of the people who were in the crowd, now observing Passover Sabbath in my home with doors locked. Recalling the grossness of yesterday's events, I have fleeting anger at the occupiers who stick up those crosses, at our own ministers, at my fellows who preferred a bandit. But I didn't pin my hopes on any of them to begin with, so this anger wears off, leaving the real object of my derision and fury.

"Hey You---the guy on the donkey---what in Hades? We heard great things about you, miracles and glory and bringing a new Kingdom. OK you fixed a few body parts around here, but where did that get you?

It's not just that we asked you to save us, we came out for you in droves. Think of all the clothes we let you trample on---we still had to clean and wear them. We let you touch our lives with songs and big words, but when you got your fifteen minutes with the big guys you were mostly silent. You parlayed what should have been just flogging and expulsion into crucifixion, and even got an earthquake for your efforts. But all it did was rip the Temple cloth which keeps us modest before God and break some of our dishes---it didn't shake up the Romans in the least. Your followers managed to dodge the rap, but the reality is it's because nobody cares---the Romans won't even bother writing this in their reports to Caesar. You jumped on a donkey to channel Zechariah 9:9, but look at the very next lines: 'I will banish chariots from Ephraim and war-horses from Jerusalem.' Hey You---banish any horses lately? When what we need are people to unite from the countryside, even Samaritans, and come with horses of our own, all this soft stuff mocking our scriptures and that means God just leaves me angry, angry, angry."


Why explore anger then-and-there? Let us draw slowly back to our present day. This takes us through the barrel of a telescope, and the clearest telescope designs even today produce an inverted image. The inversion of this anger directs it at ourselves, at our own mischances and misdeeds. In theology of the Atonement, what does Christ's sacrifice shield us from? God's anger. The less personal word is wrath, but when reflecting on our own person at least the image of what was spared, anger is the word.

Taking theology as the template for the practical, what can deliver us from this in-directed anger? We come full circle back to Palm Sunday, but this time like ants on a Moebius band, we are walking on the other side. Yet what we need---what I needed---to say is the same: Hey You.

Hey You

Now I am speaking as one of the Pharisees in the crowd. As a vocationally Hebraic Christian from early age, I have been fascinated by the culture and details as if Christianity were "Judaism 2.0", which already warns excess as it is embodied firmly in Judaism 1.0. I have tried ever to walk with God, and beyond just saying I have felt God's presence while walking, I could point to some cases of my feet being directed right. But in all this pal-ing around with His Dad, as if playing golf to make business connections, I've missed on getting to know better the Son, not to mention those around me. Before I was old enough to learn that the Hebrew word is "Parush", I used to think that "Pharisee" meant far-I-see, too far beyond those close. And the one who is close is the guy on the donkey.

The Oswald Chambers devotional, which I finally started reading daily this year after receiving it in my church's GIFTS program five years ago, happens to be tracking the dates of Holy Week exactly this year. Having left off Saturday with the words "...not to mention those around me," I've only today noticed that the essay for April 9th begins:

Have I Seen Him? Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing. Many are partakers of God's grace who have never seen Jesus. When once you have seen Jesus, you can never be the same..."

What does it mean to see Jesus? A sermon with this title picks up its reading immediately after the verse in John 12 where two Pharisees throw their hands up at seeing the crowds go after Jesus on Palm Sunday. The second of three answers given is that it means to understand what it means to follow Him. The vigil is over.

So Hey You---the guy on the donkey---who can talk with anyone, even answer Pharisees, I follow. You may trample on my life---I will clean and wear it. I understand that getting fifteen minutes to speak means speaking out. I understand the first and third answers given in that sermon. There is no more cloth to keep modest---that is not the same as humility. Nor dodging, and your Dad cares. We still need people to unite and come with horses of their own, and that means feeding them. And Scripture is mocked this way only when it stays only in a book. Hey You, na.

(last rev. 7 July 2012)