Fruitful Life @ Trinity
The Ultimate Chiaroscuro : How God Painted the Holy Week, Matthew 21:1-11, Palm Sunday A
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  • All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
  • Hosanna
      • Psalm 118:1–2NRSV

      • Psalm 118:19–29NRSV

      • Matthew 21:1–11NRSV

  • Fifteen years ago, Ray Kurzweil published his bestseller, The Singularity Is Near, predicting that by around 2025, we will be able to live forever because biotechnology will be able to cure every disease and fix every part of our body. He had some convincing data to back it up, and many in the science community supported his prediction.
    As someone who loves science and believes in Christ, I was cynically hopeful that I will live to see the day of manmade eternal life. Now, only five years away from realizing that scientific dream, our hope is wholly wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. Can you imagine this teeny-tiny virus can turn the world upside down and drive the entire humanity on its knee overnight.
    The good news is, among all the instabilities of this world, we have one solid rock that has always given us stability. That is God’s Word. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mat 24:35).
    After a couple of weeks of living under the oppression of the pandemic, with statewide lockdown and social distancing, we have a different appreciation of what Palm Sunday was like in the first century Israel. It was a turbulent time in Israel, and they were looking for the Messiah to bring them stability.
    When Jesus entered Jerusalem in the way the Messiah was supposed to, people shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!”
    Hosanna means “Lord, save us!” but it is both a praise and a prayer. So, it’s a word of two seemingly opposite meanings—praise and prayer.
    When a word has opposite meanings, it stimulates profound thoughts and arouses dramatic emotions. Hosanna is a word of chiaroscuro. If you know how to appreciate art, you know chiaroscuro. It’s an Italian word for the use of contrast between light and dark. Chiaro means light oscuro means dark.
    Leonardo da Vinci was credited to have introduced the art of chiaroscuro to Europe during the renaissance. If you looked at Da Vinci’s paintings of Monalisa, The Last Supper, or the Virgin of the Rocks, they look dramatically beautiful because of his artistic use of light and dark.
    Da Vinci is obviously a genius. He knew how to draw attention to beauty, arouse emotions, stimulate thoughts, and, most importantly, tap into the human soul by using the contrast of light and dark.
    Today a lot of great movies and TV series are shot in chiaroscuro. My kids used to watch the Gotham series, the story of the young Bruce Wayne before he became Batman, so I watched it with them and then got hooked on to it.
    In fact, most of the DC Comic’s movies and TV series are produced in the dramatic high contrast cinematography.
    Their stories are also told in chiaroscuro. Bruce Wayne was a young kid, but he was a billionaire. The best friend of this billionaire was a homeless girl, Selina. See the contrast? Batman was an orphan and a reluctant hero. For nearly a century, DC Comics has occupied the minds and emotions of billions of children and adults alike using the chiaroscuro art of storytelling.
    Not only does the word Hosanna has opposite meanings, but also the Palm Sunday itself has contradictory meanings. Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. What a contrast!
    In fact, the entire Holy Week has a lot of opposite meanings. Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, his shameful and painful death on the cross, and his surprising resurrection, all happened in a week creating the lowest and highest emotions.
    God painted this high drama to tell the world, “I love you!”
    I call it God’s art of chiaroscuro. I believe, being a spiritual man, Leonardo da Vinci got his art of storytelling from God.
    Now, let’s look at God’s chiaroscuro painting of Palm Sunday.
    Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” (Mat 21:1b-3)
    As believers, we see the chiaroscuro in Christ—fully God and fully man. It makes us question, “How did Jesus know those animals were there?” If we see him as fully God here, then it’s not a big deal because God knows everything.
    If we treat him as a fully human here, the question would be how he managed to pre-arrange it? He was near Jerusalem, far from his home turf of Galilee, but he told the disciples to say, “The Lord needs them,” as if he was the owner of these animals.
    The term “Lord” could mean the owner of these animals. How could Jesus have owned any animals? He was an itinerant preacher. He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Mat 8:20). It’s hard to imagine he is the owner of these animals. Then, the other option would be that the term “the Lord” means God.
    Now, there is another contrasting color painted here. The Lord “needs” it. The two words, “The Lord” and “needs” are an oxymoron. Will the Lord, who has everything, ever in need of anything? It’s another chiaroscuro. It makes you think; it arouses your emotion of curiosity.
    Matthew explained that this was to fulfill a prophecy:
    This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Mat 21:4-5).
    There were two animals involved—a donkey and a colt. Both Mark’s and Luke’s version of this story said that the colt had not been ridden. A colt needs to be trained before you can comfortably ride on them. If you ride on a colt for the first time, it will be frightened, and it will jump and run in different directions.
    According to the donkey experts, it’s easier to ride on a colt if the mother donkey is present. That explains why two animals were mentioned together here, even though Jesus could ride on only one. The mother donkey is there to calm the colt from being frightened by someone riding on it for the first time.
    Still, according to the donkey experts, it is impossible for the colt not to run wild when it is being ridden on for the first time. They said the fact that Jesus was able to ride on the unridden colt to Jerusalem was a miracle by itself.
    You can see the contrasts here: the colt and the donkey—young and old; the humble animal carrying the mighty king.
    The Bible says,
    When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” (Mat 21:10).
    Jesus entered Jerusalem in such chiaroscuro that arouses so many emotions that the whole city was in a turmoil. He entered there as a king, but instead of riding a warhorse, he rode a colt. It’s counter-intuitive.
    The whole story of Jesus was counter-intuitive. God came into the world as a baby in a manger. God entered Jerusalem on a colt. God died on the cross. No human religion in the world has ever imagined such a chiaroscuro art of storytelling. Only God could have come up with this counter-cultural concept.
    As a result, God’s art of chiaroscuro has inspired the most celebrated artists in human history. The most beautiful pieces of music have been composed, the most fabulous paintings and sculptures have been crafted, and the most magnificent architectures have been designed.
    Now, it’s your turn. How are you going to tell your story?
    As Christians, we have inherited the ultimate chiaroscuro of God’s love story. The cross symbolizes the depth of our sin and the height of God’s love. It’s the highest drama of human history.
    How could someone crucify a humble rabbi riding a colt? Doesn’t it reveal the depth of our sins? Humility seems to be a threat to human arrogance. Yet, how could a mighty God forgive such atrocity committed on his only Son?
    God uses chiaroscuro to arouse our most potent emotions to awaken our sinking souls. John Calvin called it the Irresistible Grace. God didn’t just casually bestow grace and forgive us. He paid an enormous price to redeem us. Grace is free but not cheap.
    We must tell the story of this extravagant grace. Tell it like Jesus did, making the whole Jerusalem asking, “What is this?”
    I have been learning the art of chiaroscuro. If you have seen my photos of flowers, sunrises, and sunsets that I posted on Facebook, you would have seen the dramatic beauty of nature. I didn’t post them right out of the camera, but I edited them on the Adobe Lightroom to create a artistic contrast.
    It’s an art that needs a lot of practice. If you overdo it, it looks ugly. If you don’t do it, it is uninteresting. Anyone can take a snapshot and post it online, but only an artist can transform it to tell a story effectively.
    Da Vinci didn’t just paint the scene of the Last Supper, but he painted to tell a story for people to appreciate it and interpret it for hundreds of years, and maybe for thousands of years to come.
    We may never be Leonardo Da Vinci, but we are all artists because our God is the greatest artist of all.
    The world needs you to tell the story of God’s irresistible grace and tell it effectively.
    Today, we shout Hossana both as praise and prayer—as praise for the grace we have received and as a prayer for those who have not yet received.
    In this world of instability, your story of stability is in demand. Unfortunately, people don’t hear it if you tell it like a snapshot out of your cellphone. They are more likely to hear it through your art of chiaroscuro.
    This Holy Week, do some deep mediation on the highest dram in human history—the light of the Palm Sunday, the darkness of the Good Friday, and the brightness of the Easter, and contemplate how you can tell it in your own art of chiaroscuro.
    Let us all practice this art because the world needs to see it.
    May God bless you all. Amen!
      • Matthew 24:35NRSV

      • Matthew 21:1b–3NRSV

      • Matthew 21:10NRSV

  • Just as I am, without One Plea
  • The Old Rugged Cross

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