Let us pray: Holy and awesome God, as we enter into this final week of Lent, we are reminded more and more of Jesus’ full humanity, of Jesus’ ministry and purpose in this world, and especially of God’s abundant love for creation and for all of humanity. Help us to see the work of God this week. Help us to stay present and to not rush ahead to sounds of “Alleluia!” at the empty tomb. Help us to remember our stories in the midst of the greatest and earliest story of our Christian faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Franciscan Friar and Spiritual writer, Richard Rohr writes, “There are two ways of being a prophet. One is to tell the enslaved that they can be free. It is the difficult path of Moses. The second is to tell those who think they are free that they are in fact enslaved. This is the even more difficult path of Jesus.” This quote captures, beautifully, the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke. One transitional sentence towards the end of Luke 9 begins Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem, “When the days drew near for him [that is Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51, [NRSV]).

With his face set to go to Jerusalem, Jesus travels with undefined crowds who follow him from town to town, with his disciples whom he called, and with persons called Pharisees by the gospel writer. Pharisees, in this gospel, represent those persons who opposed Jesus’ teaching and authority. From the end of chapter 9 until 19:28, Jesus continues his difficult path: to the crowds who follow Jesus, he issues warnings of judgment and calls to discipleship; to those who oppose his teachings and authority, he tells parables that warn them of their rejection; and to his disciples, Jesus continues to teach them. He gives them specific instructions on prayer, hospitality, suffering, and possessions.[1] For nearly ten chapters, Jesus alternates from group of people to another: teaching, warning, and instructing, until he is near the villages of Bethphage and Bethany where gives a very specific direction to two of his disciples, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here”(19:29-30).

Although the gospel writer does not make mention of it in today’s passage, the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is often tied to the Festival of the Passover. The Feast of the Passover remains one of the holy feasts observed by our Jewish siblings. It is a feast in which Jewish people remember and commemorate God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Now, imagine for a moment, that Jesus who has been traveling, teaching, warning, and instructing tells his disciples to go to a nearby town like Bethany, where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary lived. Now suppose that there was a colt that had never been ridden tied up outside of Lazarus’ house, and Jesus’ disciples say to him, “The LORD has need of it.” Lazarus, standing there alive (because of Jesus, according to the gospel of John) responds as any grateful friend would in that situation. Here’s the thing: animals who had never been ridden were reserved for holy purposes, and Jesus is coming from the Mt. of Olives, from the East to Jerusalem, the place from which it is believed the Messiah would come.

If, in fact, it was around the time of the Passover when Jesus came into Jerusalem, then I imagine that Pontius Pilate might be feeling a bit anxious. After all, Jerusalem is under Roman occupation. So, you have Israelites who are enslaved under Roman occupation celebrating and remembering that God freed the Israelite slaves from Egypt. Pilate does not want trouble. He does not want the Jewish people to have hope that if an exodus can happen once, it can happen again. So, in full Roman regalia, Pontius Pilate rides into Jerusalem from the West atop a strong and swift stallion, and in the middle of these two different and distinctive kings are the crowds, the disciples, and some Pharisees.

Here is one of those places where several accounts of the gospel get conflated into one narrative. It is at this point, that we expect to hear large crowds waving palm and olive branches and shouting “Hosanna!” But listen again, to what the gospel writer of Luke says, “As he [that is Jesus] was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples [emphasis mine] began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.” In this moment, Jesus life, ministry, and teaching draws closer to a full circle. For we recall that when Jesus was born, an angel with the multitude of heavenly hosts praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors”(2:13-14). As the angel and heavenly hosts praised God and offered peace to earth at the occasion of Jesus’ birth, so now, just before his death, Jesus’ disciples—those whom he has chosen and instructed in prayer and hospitality, in suffering and in possessions, offer peace back to heaven and praise God for the king who has come in the name of God.

Perhaps out of annoyance, perhaps out of anger, perhaps out of anxiety, “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop”(19:39, emphasis mine). Some of the Pharisees, seeing Jesus sitting upon cloaks on an unridden colt, on a path laid with cloaks understand Jesus’ teaching and warning, though Jesus has yet spoken on word. They understand that Jesus is embodying a kingdom that by its very design has come to upend and undo the empire as it has been understood. “Tell them to be quiet; our lives are hard enough.” “Tell them to be quiet; we are finally beginning to gain some traction and don’t want to lose ground.” Yet, Jesus in yet another moment of teaching reminds the Pharisees that even if the disciples were quiet, the rocks which God created would surely cry out. You see, Jesus is not just an offering for sins of a fallen humanity. Jesus is LORD of all creation. Jesus is LORD of all humanity, and no amount of trying to quiet the kingdom of God will ever change that.

So, on this eve of the first day of Holy Week, as in Jerusalem some nearly 2000 years ago, we find ourselves once more at the crossroads: at the crossroads in between the LORD of heaven and earth ushering in a new kingdom and the authority of an Empire trying desperately to hold onto a dominating, oppressive sense of power. We find ourselves at the crossroads of the resurrection of our LORD and the promise of Christ’s return. We find ourselves living in the space between the already and the not yet, wrestling with the same questions: with whom does our authority rest? To whom do we and will we pay homage? To whom do we offer ourselves: our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness? I pray that we will all take time to examine the presence and impact of our lives in the powerful witness of Jesus in that final week on earth so long ago. I offer this to you in the name of God who creates, who redeems, and who sustains each and every one. Amen.

 

[1]               Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, Revised Edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press (1999).