April 14th: Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40 (NIVUK)
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” say, “The Lord needs it.”’
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’
34 They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ 40 ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’
All four Gospel authors share the account of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we now know as Palm Sunday. Each author gives a slightly different account and surrounds their telling with a different collection of Jesus’ teachings and works and even structure the immediate events differently. Each Gospel author writes with from a different perspective as each one contemplates Jesus according the revelation God has given them. They have different audiences and are addressing the varied circumstances and needs of those audiences. Every pastor does the same thing each time they bring a word from God to their own congregations. You do the same as you interpret Jesus for family and friends. It’s the same Good News but we each tell it in our own way.
Luke’s message is influenced by the fact that he is a gentile and understands acutely what it means to be one of the ‘lost sheep’ Jesus came to find and bring home (Luke 15). Luke is also a physician and a physician has a compulsion to heal the sick and restore the broken. Luke has a particular heart for the poor; those who suffer, who are marginalised, disenfranchised, disaffected, disavowed and disowned by their own people. He is focused on people like him who were or are lost. This is evident in the telling of his Good News.
To the casual reader, Palm Sunday may mark the beginning of the end of Jesus’ Good News story or does it merely mark the end of the beginning of a story that is as yet not fully written? Perhaps it is Good News of the end of the old cycles of humanity’s self-sabotage, and the Good News of the beginning of all that is new, fresh, fully alive and fully connected into our dancing* God. Perhaps it is the beginning of Good News especially for you.
[* Note: Google, ‘perichoresis’ and the nature of Jesus and of our Triune God and their divine ‘dance’ of relationship]
A Brief History for Context
For the children of Israel, Jerusalem had been the centre of political, cultural, economic and faith life since the reign of King David. For the prophets, it was the faith life that determined a healthy cultural and economic existence. However, what God wants for us and what his prophets teach is rarely the way his people choose to live. In the Hebrew bible we see a repeating cycle of human brokenness that spirals out of control into the chaos of self-interest, toxic relationships and an increasing division between the haves and have-nots. Equality before God deteriorates into the tyranny of the wealthy and powerful over the poor and rejected.
There are three main cycles of rebellion and rescue recorded in the Hebrew bible. The first cycle begins with God rescuing his people from Egypt. They spend 40 years in the desert because of their stubborn rebellion and finally he rescues them again by bringing them into the Promised Land, a place of wealth and prosperity.
The second cycle begins in that land of abundance. Greed for power and wealth takes hold of the kings and ruling classes that follow after David and the self-interest of these leaders leads to the corruption of the culture and of faith. Eventually, Israel are taken into slavery in Babylon where their talents and skills are employed for the wealth of their new masters and their land and personal wealth is confiscated.
The third cycle begins after their return from Babylon to the Promised Land. After Jerusalem and the temple were restored, the same cycle of self-interest returned and the same old corruption of faith and culture took hold. Within this cycle, Israel is overrun and conquered by the Greeks and Alexander the Great. Israel is once more a conquered nation and ‘slaves’ within their own boarders. The third cycle is at its decayed depths at Jesus birth. In this final cycle, rescue of all of creation is at hand.
The Problem with Jerusalem is the Problem with Israel
At Jesus time, Jerusalem was still the centre of political, cultural, economic and faith life. This time the politics were particularly complex. Israel had its own dominant ruling class, the elders, priests, pharisees and scribes (lawyers); all of them wealthy land owners who controlled the agricultural production and the means of distribution. Over generations, Israel’s kings had confiscated land from farming families and illegally given it to their chosen elite as payment for their loyalty. With the help of corrupt lawyers and the law courts, land was also confiscated by default on loans. On top of this we have the greater domination of Roman rule by violence and often excessive taxation.
The Jewish rulers, dominated the people through their control of the Scriptures and temple worship, by means of personal wealth and through temple taxes. Rome ruled by might of her legions, the extensive political power of the Roman city state and by bribes and privileges they bestowed on the Jewish elite in order to buy their loyalty. The people were cheated and taxed into abject poverty and then treated as outcasts by political authorities and ‘sinners’ by the religious authorities.
This is the Israel of Luke’s Gospel. Enter the Son of man.
The Immediate Context of Today’s Reading is Faith
Palm Sunday is preceded by Jesus teaching on faith and even demonstrating the faith of those who came for healing.
- The parable of the persistent widow
- An example of persistence in faith
- The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
- Faithlessness and religiosity of the wealthy and powerful in contrast to the extraordinary faith of the poor
- The little children and Jesus
- The simple requirements of faith – come as an infant
- The rich and the kingdom of God
- Genuine faith lies in God not in the things that give us power, control and a sense of safety in our possessions. Especially not in ill-gotten gains and at the neglect of the poor who may have made us wealthy
- Jesus predicts his death a third time
- For the third and final time, Jesus predicts his death. At the same time, his disciples are surrounded by examples and demonstrations of faith
- A blind beggar receives his sight
- This demonstration of faith is proof of an inner or spiritual sight. The blindman saw what was true and good before he could see with his eyes.
- Zacchaeus the tax collector
- Hope leads to faith and faith to a new life for a hate tax collector.
- The parable of the ten minas (silver coins)
- Examples of faith and faithlessness. Is the Jerusalem of Jesus time the faithless servant who has made no investment in faith because it is afraid of the God of the scribes and pharisees and perhaps, even more afraid of Rome?
Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King
You may not be aware but at the Feast of Passover in the year of Jesus crucifixion (circ. A.D. 30), two parades inter Jerusalem. One from the west and one from the east.
From the west and from the seaside palace of the governor of Judaea came the Xth Roman Legion and the governor Pontus Pilot, mounted on a war horse and wearing all the regalia of office and the insignia of the Roman emperor. The legion always came to major festivals in Jerusalem. They came to keep order among the Jewish natives and among the many visitors and to quell any potential hostilities created by the nationalist Zealots. After all, Rome ruled a nation that celebrated victory over past oppressors twice every year. The major celebration was this one, Passover – freedom from Egypt. The other was latter in the year at Hanukah; the celebration of the rededication of the second temple after the Maccabees freed Israel from Greek rule.
In the Passover celebration, Jews remembered their freedom from the hands of Pharaoh, a living god and the son of Ra. At this Passover and for many before and after, God’s people also remembered that they served under the weight of the Roman Emperor. At this time, it was Tiberius Caesar, also worshiped as a living god, son of Apollo.
From the east came another parade. A humble teacher dressed in everyday clothing and riding upon the unbroken colt of an ass. I’m sure both arrived to cheers and adulation. One by threat and intimidation and the other by hope and faith. One enters with a show of power and authority and the intention to dominate. The other in humility and gentleness, for peace and for freedom, even in the midst of domination, destruction and corruption and eventually, peace and freedom from it.
Good News – Great News – Jubilant News – News from God
One enters as a representative of the living god of Rome, the other as Yahweh; true God, alive in human skin.
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
40 ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’
We can understand the angst of these pharisees. Despite the system of political rule, corrupted slowly over centuries, these religious leaders and rulers of Israel were keen to prevent the bloodshed of their people; keen to protect them. It’s understandable then, that they ask Jesus to request some temperance from his followers. This time in history however, and this particular entrance into Jerusalem are God ordained and God organised and if the people are silent God himself will shout for joy through the bedrock of the earth itself.
Good News for Everyone
In almost all human stories there are good guys and bad guys, winners and losers. In this story, everyone wins. Jesus enters Jerusalem to challenge the powers of this world and to correct the wrongs done by their greedy systems. He does so not with an army or with weapons of war but peacefully and with his soul set for personal sacrifice. The eyes of God see what we can’t, or won’t. Jesus is set to do engage in the final battle. ‘Not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 6.
Deprive the devil and all his spirits of their power, demolish their aspirations and our weak and broken humanity may well be saved, even the Romans and the scribes and pharisees. Destroy the disease and the symptoms can be treated with love. Perhaps Jesus is dying for everyone!?
Salvation Plan: Stage 2 – Operation Redemption
This Easter we will remember again, the sacrifice of Jesus and his resurrection, ‘the first born from among the dead’ (Colossians 1:18).