Palm-less Sunday (as reported in Luke 19: 28-40)

This doesn’t have to happen.  There is no reason for Jesus to make such a fuss.  Go to Jerusalem; celebrate the festival; lose yourself in the crowds; honour God with the worship that is required, then get the heck out of town.  That option was always open – that’s how everyone else dealt with the horrifying political reality in this once proud capital city; the city that symbolized all that was great about this nation of God’s chosen people…  though any illusion of being special in the eyes of God has faded for this generation.

But Jesus has spent most of his adult life reminding people of God’s claim on them.  He declares that a kingdom is coming; his intriguing use of parables relates God’s ancient covenant promise in new ways; he is bold to suggest that the promised kingdom may be almost upon them.  Peace, justice, compassion, and above all, a new understanding of power and order – these things sound too good to be true to a people whose earliest memories are of Roman occupation and foreign rule.  The Promised Land seemed void of promise…until Jesus started talking.

Still, for all his attractive ideas, this decision to steal a donkey – well okay, borrow, but it’s a near thing – and tumble in to town along one of the main roads…that’s just crazy!  If you are representing a power other than Roman power, and claiming a heritage that suggests you have historic rights to a land that is (once again) under foreign occupation, then someone is going to notice; questions will be asked, and if you’re not careful, somebody could get hurt

And that’s what happens, of course – predictable as the tide, here come the authorities; fellow citizens and co-religionists who do not want to make waves.  They covet their positions; they seek the safety offered by Roman indifference.  “Teacher, control your students!  Keep them quiet!”  No one want’s attention drawn to the promise of God’s redemption, especially when that redemption looks like self-rule.  This is no time for ‘kingdom’ talk.  Jesus has his answer ready: “If these were quiet, the stones would shout out.”  This promise of redemption is not limited to any one nation.  God has promised nothing less than the liberation of the earth itself.  How will Rome react to that?  We’ll know soon enough.

The troubling thing is that Rome’s reaction will be aided by those who are afraid of real freedom.  Jesus will be betrayed by a friend, denied by one who was like a brother to him, rejected by fellow scholars and religious experts – all these were (are) threatened by the suggestion that God is on the verge of offering something different.  Those who call for silence are the ones who cannot face the truth.

Jesus is not a guide to a new kind of morality – there is nothing new about a morality guided by love of God and neighbour – Jesus destroys our ideas about power and success; Jesus puts God at the heart of his every action, and dares his opponents to find fault – and of course they do, because the Divine power Jesus honours had been gradually assumed by human agents, religious and political.  They fear the loss of their authority – an authority that was never properly theirs.

Human vanity has, from the very beginning of the biblical record, led us to presume to act as gods.  We take liberties, we make pronouncements, we establish kingdoms that satisfy our own need for recognition; our own thirst for glory.  The problem we have with Jesus is consistent with the reaction of those who opposed him in Judea.  He asks us to imagine a different structure and to acknowledge a different power. To illustrate, he consorts with societies forgotten souls; he touches the untouchable, he treats the unfortunate poor as his equal and he dares to address God in personal (and occasionally intimate) terms.  His “triumphal entry” (so it is named in most of our memories) is very little triumph, unless you see progress in the mocking of the powerful.  That’s what it is to ride a donkey, covered in peasant cloaks and welcomed by a rough voiced choir singing the praises, not of the man on the mule, but rather praising God for all the deeds of power they had seen.

The king they bless that day was not Jesus – though we are bold to name him king.  They bless the King of Heaven; and that, of course, is trouble.  The powers that be will set this right – they cannot help themselves.  Jesus will pay for this defiant illustration.  But he will not deviate from his convictions.  He will remain obedient to the power of God to the end.  A power that will not lay waste to the opposition; a power that responds to violence with love and forgiveness; a power that will, in love, see us liberated from our deadly pride, once and for all.

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