So Jesus enters Jerusalem. He is accompanied by a great many people…multitudes is the word used in Scripture. They are followers, people who have followed his ministry, his preaching, teaching, healing, and walking, Jesus walked a long way in his short ministry but never so determinedly as this walk to Jerusalem. It is no doubt fitting that the last part of the journey should be riding a colt, a donkey, something which in Jewish religious terms only a King or ruler would ride before a crowd in a pilgrimage such as this. The Scriptures refer to the crowd as his disciples, even though we tend to think of disciples as being only the 12. At this point in the story for Luke it seems, as has been true throughout the gospel really, that to be a follower is to be a disciple. Right from the outset those who follow are not only willing to join in the journey they are also disciples, people expected to bear witness, to live as Jesus lived, to walk the same journeys which his ministry took over the years in Galilee. Luke will not let the passion of the one week in Jerusalem overtake the passion of the previous years. What we saw in Jesus in Galilee is what we will see in Jesus this week. What we did with Jesus in Galilee is what we will do with Jesus this week in Jerusalem. His ministry before entering Jerusalem is not prelude that will be overtaken by the passion of this one week. What went before will not only be present during this terrible week but it will continue in the lives of those multitude of disciples who will always follow Jesus preaching, teaching, healing, and walking, walking, always walking to where the greatest need is at any one moment.
What began at Christmas has been about the journey with God undertaken by Jesus and his followers. As contemporary disciples your journey is not of any less importance. Sometimes that journey needs to get noisy as well, just as it did with Jesus in the entry into Jerusalem. When asked to tell the crowds to be quiet Jesus responded that ‘If these were silent, I tell you the very stones would shout.’ We prefer not to get into that part of the journey but it is as important today as it was then. Those who were excited were those who were poor and vulnerable. Barbara Lundblad asks: “Do we really want stones to come to life? Do we want to invite the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame into the sanctuary? Do we want people praising God who can’t find the right page in the hymnal?
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
“I tell you,” said Jesus, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Who is shouting to be heard this Holy Week? Followers of Jesus are called to listen to those who have been silenced. When we do, the Gospel comes alive in radically new ways. Who is longing to be heard where we are?
- the shut-in that simply can’t manoeuvre his or her way through Covid registration online or by phone
- the women and men who risk their lives every day to ensure that we have groceries to take home
- the immigrant women who care for our aging parents or partners
- the person who didn’t quite get into church life and community before we had to lock the doors a year ago
- the man who stands outside the grocery store every day with a cup in his hand
- the Asian-Canadian who fears for their very life as they see scene after scene of prejudice played out against them by total strangers simply because they are, or appear to be, of Chinese descent
What stories do they long to tell? Will we walk past without stopping? “I tell you,” said Jesus, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” That is what came with Jesus when he entered Jerusalem. This was not a tourist trip that he was on. It was a journey of ministry and ministry with God’s people and for God’s people. That is why Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, which from the time of David was to be the city of God, the place where God dwelled in the Ark of the Covenant housed in the temple. If it was God’s city then there would be no question as to who would cry out; we, the disciples would cry out. We would challenge government just as Jesus challenged government. We would promote peace yet we live in a world which many describe as a place of fear; we would promote community yet we live where we resent the neighbour we do not know; and we would decry every attempt to benefit the wealthy at the cost of the poor. This is what rode into Jerusalem that morning so long ago—a passion for God’s Way and a passion for God’s people. Such passion is never risk free. Jesus knew that but we should never view his entry into Jerusalem as being suicidal. It was his intention to claim God’s Way for all God’s people and he would do so at the very heart of the religious world that held that there is one God and that our purpose is to love and serve that God as we love and serve God’s people.
We must never forget that Jesus entry into Jerusalem as Lord was both political and theological. Today we hear stories praising Israel for the way they have managed the Covid-19 pandemic. They have done a wonderful job except for one thing. Even though they have occupied Palestine illegally under international law and even though as an occupying force they are obliged to care for the health and wellbeing of residents in the occupied land, the government of Israel has simply said “the Palestinian authority will have to look after their own people. This even though in every other aspect of life the state of Israel dominates and controls the whole life of every Palestinian man, woman and child. That is what Jesus would ride into in Jerusalem and decry today and that is why to follow Jesus is always both a religious and a political commitment. Faith is not just about what happens in the temple in Jerusalem, or in our Parkwoods sanctuary, or this year in our community gathered on Zoom. Our faith commits us to be disciples every day and in every way. Disciples engage in an active concern for the poor and vulnerable whether the entry to Jerusalem is 2,000 years ago or this morning. Jesus is contemporary to our faith.
As he approached the city Jesus wept and said: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” The whole journey had been about the things that make for peace. Surely his disciples could see that! As he drew near to the city and saw how this was no longer God’s city, and as he recognized that even his followers would not, could not, see the things that make for peace, he wept. The tensions in our communities, the turmoil between cultures and the wars of this world happen because we love ourselves and ourselves alone. How heart breaking that is to say even this morning. Then what must that have felt like as Jesus rode into Jerusalem knowing that one disciple would openly betray him while others would knowingly deny him, and all his followers would fade away out of fear for their own wellbeing? I cannot imagine the sadness in his heart or the deep sigh with which he must have said “If you, if only you…” If you, if only you, who knew so much of what God’s love was all about, who had seen that love come to life in the lives of the poor and vulnerable, who had witnessed the incredible gift of sharing motivated by that love so as to feed thousands upon thousands of hungry people, if you, even you could not see the journey through this week then all that is left is tears. Jesus was not betrayed by strangers. Jesus was betrayed by disciples, by his followers who in their own way had walked their Lenten journeys.
Pilate, who normally did not reside in Jerusalem, would be there this week, not to welcome Jesus but to ensure that the Jewish high festival of Passover would be held without any uprisings or without any challenges to the status quo. Of course Jesus and his followers were clearly a challenge to that entire system which held God’s people back. Neither Pilate, nor the elders, nor the followers, nor the people of Jerusalem could even begin to fully see let alone comprehend that this was not a threat but an offer of a more complete, more fulfilling life. If followed, this journey was not a revolution but a change of heart that would see God’s Spirit become the new operating principle of the land. Jesus did not come to condemn Jerusalem then, nor our contemporary “Jerusalems” named Don Mills, Toronto, or Canada now. Jesus came that all of our cities, communities and structures of governance might more truly serve the people of God. This was to be a way of peace yet it led to a way of death, the same death which stalks our world today.
Prof. Lundblad writes: “When we refuse to listen or see those who have been silenced, we hear Jesus weeping once again over our cities and our churches. ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on that day the things that make for peace!’ Jesus seems to speak to us when he says, “(if you,) even you,’ looking beyond that day in Jerusalem into our own time.” So we get agitated when we see injustice and people being threatened because of the colour of their skin inherited from their Asian parents, or taken advantage of in a system that does not pay a fare wage for essential workers, or locked away in private for-profit elder care home inadequately prepared to keep them alive during a pandemic. Pick an issue, any issue, close to your heart and go there. If you do not then these stones will shout out. I have been to Israel/Palestine and left with the impression that there were more stones than people! Jesus knew that the land itself would cry out if his disciples could not, would not, follow Him and God’s Way. Jesus believed His message, His passion was so strong that even the stones would shout out!
Peace is what Jesus intended for the whole world, including you and me. It takes work and will often mean putting others before ourselves. It means accepting some personal inconvenience in order that the community might do well. It means refusing to accept that the way things are today is the way things must be tomorrow. It means being able to make room in your heart for God and your neighbour because they both want to accompany you on your journey. There will be tears along the way especially when we face disappointing change and unplanned setbacks. Yet because of this week when God in Jesus discovered just how terrible the journey is when we feel that we are walking alone, we know, with resurrection confidence, that our journey is not one that we walk alone…we walk in the company of God and neighbour. We are not alone. This is God’s world.