Throughout Lent we’ve been traveling with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem, listening to his teaching and witnessing his miracles. While our reading from Luke doesn’t give us the loud Hosannas, we know that he makes his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, amid cheering crowds who lay their coats on the ground for him and his donkey to pass by on. They are shouting, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Who is this Jesus? “The prophet…from Nazareth in Galilee,” some in the crowd say. Jesus has been a teacher, storyteller, healer, and one who feeds us abundantly out of our scarcity. We want more of him. We like what he does for us.
Our reading this year also doesn’t include the fact that they even wanted to make him their king. Wouldn’t everything we wonderful for us if he was our king? We would be free from Roman occupation and have everything we need. And in five short days, their attitudes dramatically change. The loud Hosannas turn to brutal “Crucify him!”
How can this happen? The answer is that in those five days Jesus will challenge the temple’s practices, make demands of his disciples, announce the need for revolutionary change in the people’s hearts and minds in the religious community, and ask for commitment—a complete upending and rearranging of people’s priorities and known practices.
Don’t you know Jesus, that when you get too close to the sacred cows in people’s lives you’re going to get in trouble? Religious people won’t like you anymore. The brilliance of your truth and light, and the intensity of your love are frightening. We are much more comfortable with the pain and distress of the demons we know, thank you very much.
This talk about the Kingdom of God here and now, with justice and compassion for all, makes us uncomfortable. It is uncharted territory. It has been great, but now we’re getting a little nervous. And so we have to push you away, find fault with you, and make excuses for our behaviors and attitudes, rather than let you in so that you can transform our lives in ways we didn’t know were possible. After all, Jesus, you are counter culture—so radical to what we know, and Jesus, try to understand, you are asking for CHANGE. We have to get away from you!
Who crucified Jesus? The Romans? Yes. The Jewish religious establishment? Yes. Judas Iscariot? Yes. The disciples who scattered and denied him when the going got tough during the next few days? Yes. Every single one of the crowd who hollered, “Crucify him?” Yes. You and me, when we deny him, or treat our brothers and sisters with contempt? Lord, have mercy… Yes!
The same thing happens to all great reformers or spiritual leaders down through the ages: people who have introduced, and worked to bring about, new societal norms or new political ideologies that create justice. In more recent history, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and John F. Kennedy come to mind.
When someone begins to makes changes that upset the status quo, he or she must be stopped. Either we can have people killed, or have them imprisoned, or maybe we can dig up dirt about them,
and then use a smear campaign to bring them down, or simply kill them. Society finds all kinds of ways to get rid of those whose light is too bright…Just look at the political madness in our country.
Jesus could have done it another way, you know. He could have come with great legions of armies, gathering around him a force to be reckoned with. That’s what the Jews expected when Messiah was to come. It’s why they didn’t recognize him—he came with powerless love, rather than loveless power. Jesus, in his true-to-form paradoxical manner, takes the heat himself. He absorbs the violent hatred of the very ones to whom he came to bring peace and joy and a new way of life in God’s New Kingdom. He is willing to suffer himself, rather than forcing his way of peace on others.
Yet, on this day, the people in Jerusalem live into Zechariah’s prophecy as Jesus comes to them, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9).
But as we know, the ride to glory isn’t going to be so smooth for very long. Jesus surprises the establishment by rather unceremoniously cleansing the temple. He even tells the chief priests and elders that tax collectors (those most hated of people in their society) will enter the Kingdom of God before they do: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.” (Matthew 23:13).
This Jesus must be stopped. Let’s eliminate this one who wants to come into our temples and shake things up. And so Jesus, rejected by those he came to serve and save, goes from Palm Sunday to Golgotha, as we read in the Passion Narrative, and as we will experience this Holiest of Holy weeks and days.
This Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion, Jesus will celebrate his last Passover with us on the day we call Maundy Thursday. He will ask us to pray and watch with him while he prays in agony. He will ask us to be there with him when he is nailed to the cross on Good Friday. And, he entreats us to pass with him from his death to his victory over death and sin in glorious resurrection, Saturday night into Sunday morning.
Will you watch and wait and pray with Jesus in these days? Will you share the last celebration of the Passover when the bread and wine become his body and blood for all time? Will you be here when he is crucified and weep with the Blessed Mother? Will you rejoice when Jesus rises from the dead, having the last word that God is love and not even death can stop the mercy, strength, and energy of God’s love that has the ability to conquer our refusal to be transformed?
Will you give him space in your life, in your heart this most holy of weeks? Or will you deny him because you’re too busy, too tired, too distracted by Easter dinner planning and shopping, and the grandchildren’s Easter baskets, and family gatherings that leave him out?
Make a choice, because the sound of the donkey’s hooves can be heard in the distance amid the shouts of praise and the waving of palms. Jesus is coming…