This is a strange story. It’s a strange story for Palm Sunday because, well, there were no palms. And there are none of the hosanna’s that we are used to seeing. and as they marched to the city and their parade wasn’t really a parade. it wasn’t filled with fickle crowds crying out Hosanna in the days before they cry crucify. this is a strange story. But Luke is trying to tell us something about the people gathered, about the king that Jesus is, and about what it means for us.
This day had been planned; this was an event that had been orchestrated by Jesus. There was a donkey waiting for the disciples and there was a secret password for use when they went pick it up. The people who had been following Jesus for months, maybe years, knew which city gate to gather at so they could all march in together.
Jesus is a strange king, in many ways, not like a king they, or we, know at all.
One of the things that we think about on this day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is how it reflects, mirrors, and changes the other entries that happened into Jerusalem. The Greco-Roman leaders and conquerors would enter a city that they had conquered, after they had overthrown the military and political forces, after they had proven that their gods were more powerful than the gods of those who had just lost. Alexander had done this when the Greeks had conquered Palestine. Herod the Great would enter the city like this, remembering that he was appointed king by Rome.
Alexander marched into Jerusalem and there was a celebration and a parade. And then he walked to the temple and offered the sacrifice to the god that had allowed him to win in the temple of the God he had conquered. THAT is what a Triumphal entry looks like in the eyes of those who were alive when Jesus walked into that city. Ours is a strange story and despite all the shouting, it doesn’t seem quite like a victory party.
They are Marching into the city as they are proclaiming loudly who Jesus was for the people who were just living their lives, who lived in the neighborhood, who are passing through, who maybe had business in the area, they called out “blessed is the king and peace in the highest heaven.” Now calling anyone a king who was not the Caesar, or had not been appointed by Caesar, that was an act of sedition. That was an act that could cause trouble. And that was an act the Pharisees were trying to avoid.
See the Pharisees aren’t the bad guys here. They have been following Jesus. They’ve been asking questions, they have been engaged, they have been learning together. And well maybe they were challenging Jesus this was part of the Jewish tradition asking and challenging each other with questions with the goal of learning more deeply what God is trying to tell them to. No, the Pharisees didn’t like Rome, they also didn’t side with the zealots–those who we’re hoping for, we’re putting together a small army for the purpose of, who were advocating for a violent overthrow of Rome out of their land and an establishment of a Jewish king from the line of David. They participated in acts that would be deemed terrorist activity by the powerful and made them Freedom Fighters for the occupied.
But the Pharisees were right. The zealots were never going to be powerful enough to overthrow Rome. And when Rome would eventually lay waste to Jerusalem, the Jewish tradition would survive in no small part because the Pharisees had been teaching it outside of the temple, to all of the people for years. The Pharisees wanted to stay alive, wanted to survive, wanted to just do what they were doing. They wanted us all to get along. they were on the side with Jesus but they didn’t like the way in which the disciples were acting, didn’t like the way they were demonstrating, dare we say protesting. They feared that Rome would come down hard on Jesus and the City. They just wanted to peacefully live their lives.
There were a couple of kinds of peace in Jerusalem when Jesus arrived. There’s a piece of Rome known as the Pax Romana. it was the piece that Rome established at the end of a violent Civil War as they try to decide who would follow to lead the empire after the assassination of Julius. It was Augustus who established peace. But it was peace that had come at the spilling of blood, the destruction of family, and the ever-present awareness that if peace were broken again destruction Would Rain Down. So peace for Rome wasn’t a “why don’t we all just get along” rather a “Why don’t we all just do what I say and there won’t be any problems.” But we know with peace like that the littlest things could change the tide, could set them off, could make things dangerous for everyone involved.
Some of the religious leaders in and around Jerusalem practice a kind of peace that is related to the why can’t we all just get along. The kind of peace that tries to work within a system and benefit from it. it’s a precarious peace always at the whims of the most powerful in the room and recognizing that sometimes it’s not you; this is the piece of the Pharisees just asking Jesus to maintain the status quo so they could get through another day. This is a piece that becomes intertwined in the politics and the economy of the empire. Rome could give things away, they could offer what others weren’t able to give for themselves. Rome paved the empire oh, they brought clean water into cities and Rome built Jerusalem a temple to their God with the extreme taxes collected from the occupied, abused occupied as laborers. Peace came with some benefits and also had some costs. The maintaining of the status quo allows the elite in Jerusalem to maintain some amount of their power. keeping everyone else calm buy conviction manipulation or sword what’s the job of the elite of the city to maintain the Peace of Rome.
This march that they’re on this parade this entry into the City and wines their way to the Mount of Olives to an upper place where they could Overlook the city and Jesus Weeps which is not the sign of a triumphal entry. But Jesus, like the prophets before him and the prophets who followed knew that there was not always a place in the world for the peace that he was bringing and that in order to maintain a Pax Romana they would have to destroy the bringer of peace. Honestly, as much as we see that Jesus foretells his death I wonder if it’s as much that he was told some secret knowledge by God that this is what has to happen or if it’s this is what happens to the people who stand up against the powerful. that maybe he wasn’t for telling the future but stating the way that it was. And continues to be for many of our prophets who have been imprisoned or killed at the hands of the powerful trying to maintain their place in the world.
Jesus says they don’t know peace that was before them, in front of them, calling them to fullness, wholeness, abundance, liberation and they were missing it because they had chosen peace of the empire.
This was Jesus’ view of peace, peace like Shalom–which also means wholeness, completeness, there is no peace where some don’t get to live in whole lives, while they were occupied, oppressed, pushed to the margins of society. The peace Jesus brings is Shalom in which all of creation wins. Which is unsatisfying to those who win on the backs or others or the earth.
The Pharisees and the disciples, the religious leaders, and the Romans, and we too have to decide who is peace are we going to follow.
I wonder if the triumphal entry of Jesus stops looking so unusual and starts feeling all too true. We are now just over a year and two this time of pandemic which isn’t really the point but it marks a couple of things. It began with killing. began with the police killing of Brianna Taylor and George Floyd, actions that were deemed necessary as a way to maintain peace. peace in a situation, peace in the streets, peace in an approach so they didn’t have to actually talk to her. As this year draws to a close it ends with killing. killing as a means to maintain power killing as a means to find inner peace. and if these were one-offs maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal, but they’re not I’m so they are. the middle of our year was filled with protests, marches people crying out into the street for the way that they think things ought to be and some times tables were overthrown. and the people who benefit from the powerful from the privilege, from the piece of the world spoke up and said be quiet we don’t like the way that you are protesting why can’t we all just get along.
We may wonder what we would do if someone were to rise up. But then we don’t have to wonder, history has told us again and again what the powerful do to the people who suggest there’s a better way, who fight for the peace that Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry and as he rode that donkey into Jerusalem. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis trying to find a way to overthrow them, was imprisoned and then killed. Archbishop Oscar Romero pics of liberation theology for the poor and that the political system should care and not thrive on the backs of the poor and he was shot at his communion table. Political dissidents are killed. over a hundred journalists have been killed since 2013 in the Syrian Civil War because they wouldn’t just get along. Unless we think we’ve done pretty good, remember the verbal abuse Greta Thornburg received from the powerful of this country because she’s suggested that we live in a different way that allows for the Abundant Living of all of creation. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King On April 3rd 1968 preached “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you.” Because he knew what we do to people who rise up against the peace. He was shot the next day.
We’re all choosing some kind of peace, worshiping some god of peace. If we were to stand before our gods I wonder how many of them would be of our own making. our gods of capitalism. our gods of military might. The god we call why can’t we just get along which often means why can’t you just do it my way. The gods of peace if you could just do this, or you could just be this, or just don’t that. That kind of peace comes at a cost, there will be winners and there will be losers. There will be some who thrive and there are those who’ll be sacrificed to maintain these Kings, these gods, this peace.
In the midst of it all Jesus is there again calling out for peace. calling out for a piece that lifts each other up, that loves one another as God’s beloved children, loves one another as siblings, loves one another as beloved’s.
What does that mean? it’s how we as a community care for one another. it’s how we feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, it’s how we look out for the vulnerable, it’s how we speak out for those who haven’t been given an opportunity to share their voice and it’s how we stand alongside them when they do. it’s how we respond to those who believe that peace comes at the end of a sword. It’s raising our voices, it’s coming alongside, it’s not participating and the peace the world tries to give us. it’s knowing that there is no peace until there is Abundant Living until there is Whole Living until there is just living until there is Shalom for all.
The peace that Jesus brings is a peace that rides in on a donkey covered with coats. It’s a peace that refuses to exist on the backs of others. Refuses to be at peace if it costs another their opportunity, their chance at Abundant Living. It’s a just peace that lifts up each other, that holds each other, and honors each one as a beloved child of God. It’s peace, it’s shalom that comes for all, for the Centurion and the thief, for the Pharisee and the blind man, for the woman hemorrhaging. Is for the sick, for the women, the Samaritan, for the rich and the poor for the Lost Sheep and for neglectful Shepherds. It’s peace and shalom for you, and for me, for your neighbors down the street and around the world, for every creature and all of creation. This is the peace Jesus brings into Jerusalem, brings to us, to all creation, this is the peace we’re asked to participate in. Will you join the strange king in his strange parade?