There's a difference of opinion these days whether it's better to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday -- if the day's lessons and sermons should emphasize Jesus' Messiahship or Jesus' spiraling descent into his ultimate humiliation and suffering.
When I was growing up, it seems that our Palm Sunday sermons emphasized both these things, and in fact juxtaposed them to highlight the irony of the Palm Sunday texts -- the cheering people laying branches at the feet of the "Son of David" becoming the jeering crowd of Good Friday, when it had become clear that Jesus wasn't the Messiah they'd expected.
Jesus was indeed a disappointing Messiah. And he still is.
The Gnostics found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he was too human; not ethereal enough for a Son of God; too accessible and down-to-earth. So they recreated him in the image of an otherworldly figure simply playing at being human, whose esoteric teachings were the rightful province of the spiritually adept. And even in mainstream Christianity there came a point in history when Jesus' humanity was diminished to the point where many Christians were afraid to engage him directly; who found his mother or other saints less intimidating intermediaries between themselves and this distant, frighteningly holy Lord and Judge.
Ironically, later in history the thinking classes found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he was, as described in the Gospels, too divine. All that whoo-hoo stuff about curing the sick and raising the dead and otherwise manifesting God's saving power -- and let's not even talk about the Resurrection; it was all just too embarrassing for intelligent folk to embrace such stories. So Jesus was deconstructed into a unique (but not really all that unique) moral teacher and forward-thinking rabbi/romantic revolutionary.
Some Christians, throughout the years, have found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he wasn't angry enough. They want a Messiah who kicks ass and takes names, who gives his benediction upon his human agents to kill assorted species of unbelievers and evildoers in his name, whose goal is to establish a "righteous empire" on earth for people who think the right things about God. The Christian Reconstructionist movement is just the latest incarnation of this mindset. (I once had an interesting online conversation with a fundamentalist -- someone who takes great public stock in his own unquestioning acceptance of every word of Scripture as "God-breathed," literal truth -- who in an unguarded moment dismissed Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as "all that love crap.")
Some people just don't think that the Jesus of the Gospels is compelling enough a figure without sexing up his story -- turning him into a Jesus Christ Superstar worthy of Entertainment Tonight. The Messiah is much more titillating a figure if he has a secret girlfriend and children...if he and Judas are in on a revolutionary conspiracy...if the institutional Church has been engaged in a nefarious coverup of "the truth" for almost 2,000 years. (If I were a betting woman I'd lay odds that a majority of people snapping up The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas et al and treating these books like amazing revelations fallen from heaven have never actually read the Gospels beginning to end, nor have they ever cracked open a book of serious biblical scholarship by someone like Raymond Brown or N.T. Wright or Marcus Borg. Just a hunch.)
The Messiah we meet in the Gospels is a Messiah whose person and message makes us uncomfortable. He's a Messiah who rejects the idea of religion which validates itself by worldly success or power. He's a Messiah who rejects the premise that only adepts and "insiders," people who do the right things or think the right things about God, are worthy of God's love and grace and imminent presence. He's a Messiah who refuses to give his stamp of approval to the societal status quo. He's a Messiah who will not endulge prejudices or revenge fantasies. He's a Messiah who can and does speak truth to power, but who does not use his power to dominate in a way that the world understands or respects. He's a Messiah whose earthly career as an itinerant preacher and teacher was limited and largely unsuccessful -- actually spectacularly unsuccessful, as we see on Good Friday. He's a Messiah who submits his will to that of God; who allows himself to become weak and vulnerable; who trusts God implicitly, even at the moment when God seems farthest removed from him; who, worst of all, calls us to follow in his footsteps -- these difficult, lonely, loser's footsteps.
He's a disappointment, this Jesus. Not the Messiah we want or expect.
But he's inviting us to come join him anyway. "I'm leading the way into God's Reign," he says. "It may not always look like it or feel like it, but that's where we're going. So come with me."
And -- thanks be to God -- we find ourselves saying, "Yes."