Worshipers or devotees?
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. There is nothing along those lines that arouses anyone’s interest today, because there is nothing great or inferior in riding a donkey. Most people today would pay a good sum of money just to get a ride! But what follows this simple action is what really makes it sound absurd. People shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and he placed cloaks in front of the donkey (Mark 11: 9). They waved leafy branches, sang and danced (Luke 19: 36-37). This is a typical welcome for a king and no king enters his city on a donkey! So what exactly was going on here?
Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday the week before Easter. Palm Sunday marks the entrance to Holy Week, a week that highlights the fundamental beliefs and basic principles of the Christian faith. Holy Week is unlike any other week on the Christian calendar. It is not marked with a lot of noise and amusement park. In fact, it brings the 40 days of Lent to a critical point, which is a period of fasting, penance, almsgiving, and above all, repentance and change. Holy Week reminds each Christian of the reason for their faith and existence as Christians. It brings them to the awareness of who God is and reminds them of what he has done and, above all, challenges them to accept who they are before God.
The people who gathered to receive Jesus in Jerusalem were great devotees. They recognized him as a king even though he did not wear imperial robes or jewels and did not come riding a mighty horse with an imposing army. They had heard of his fame; they had heard of the wonders he had done with the touch of his hands or the words of his mouth; they knew of his anointed preaching … They knew … and they listened … Perhaps they had not seen with their own eyes; They had not experienced it first hand, but they believed what was being said. This is the typical character of a devotee. The devotee believes and even acts on the belief, but he is not intimately connected with the person he worships or praises.
A worshiper, on the other hand, is not so engrossed in the conversation and actions of the person, but rather in the person himself! This is the fundamental difference. A devotee gets excited by words and actions; the worshiper has eyes only for the person; all words and actions are just a bonus. It is interesting to note that Jesus preferred the second over the first. “But the hour is coming, and now it is here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks like these to worship him” (John 4:23). Jesus was hardly bothered by the many people who simply devoted themselves to him. His focus was on gathering people who would worship God, the Father. He emphasized worship and not just devotion. Not that I have completely eliminated devotion. He was careful not to let the devotion remain purely peripheral or superficial. He always invited people to dig deep and become worshipers. Take the case in which he healed the ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19). Only one of the ten turned to praise God and thank Jesus for what he had done. Seeing this, Jesus commented, “Weren’t ten cleansed? But the other nine, where are they? None of them returned and thanked God …?” (v. 17-18). This incident shows very clearly that Jesus was not overly impressed with devotion alone. Perhaps the other nine walked the field proclaiming the miracle that Jesus had worked in their lives. But that’s nothing compared to the man who turned and worshiped the Lord.
Much of the religion focuses on devotion and therefore very often ends up making devotees of all its followers. Very little attention is paid to royal worship. It is difficult to draw a clear line between devotion and worship. The best way to judge is by examining the effect it has on a person’s life and behavior. A devotee does the things that he thinks or is told to please God. Therefore, they are often lost in the observance of rituals and in the observance of edicts and traditional practices. Worshipers keep their minds fixed on God and exude an aura of holiness. The focus of all your thoughts, words, and actions is praising God.
Palm Sunday offers us the opportunity to introspect and discover our nature in front of God. Are we simply like the crowd that gathered around Jesus to show their devotion? Is God someone we must please through our rituals, fasts, observances, and penances? If that is the case, then we are simply devotees of God. God doesn’t impact our lives much. We are very happy living our own lives and doing the things they tell us or have come to know they like. There is no real connection there. But if we really care about God and care, I don’t mean simply to respect or honor Him in the place of worship, but we seriously want to have a relationship with Him, then I think we will enter the realm of worship. It is when we desire more than pleasing God by actually desiring God Himself that we progress from being devout to being true worshipers. These are the people the Lord wants. He is not interested in mere devotion. He wants worship. Are we ready to give it to you?