04/10/22 – Before the Parade Passes By – Palm Sunday

BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY

April 10, 2022
Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

Through the 6 weeks of Lent, we have traveled through Scripture with Jesus from the time of his descent from the mountaintop of his Transfiguration to today’s reading about his entrance to Jerusalem, his final destination. The story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City is found in all 4 gospels. Today I want to explore with you what is unique about Luke’s gospel account. For Luke, this event is the penultimate conflict between imperial power and the ultimate power of God. The showdown ends on Easter. Luke’s literary style masterfully sets up the conflict that is highlighted in the reading for Palm Sunday. There isn’t enough time to trace Luke’s presentation of events throughout Lent – that’s what participating in bible study provides. But I do want to go back to two events that occurred in Luke’s gospel just prior to our reading for today, which forewarn us, as readers, of the significance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.

Before Jesus arrived in Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, he went through Jericho where a crowd had gathered to hear him. His miracle healings had become common knowledge. In healing the blind man before entering Jericho, he was first identified to the public as “Jesus, Son of David.” The blind man twice called out to Jesus with this address. It was a king, in the mold of David, the people yearned for, to free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. Jesus used his divine power, not to strike a blow at the empire, but to heal a blind man who had already seen more than the sighted crowd.

Upon entering the city limits of Jericho, a crowd rushed to meet him and hear him speak. Here we meet the tax collector, Zacchaeus. In the person of Zacchaeus, Luke illustrates the conflict between imperial power and faith. Jewish tax collectors were seen as traitors. They were used by the Roman government to collect money from the very people they oppressed, to pay for the military might, which was used to maintain the oppression. Tax collectors made their money by demanding money over the amount of the tax. Given this power, there was nothing to prevent them from increasing their profits as much as they could. We see this same practice in corporations who have raised their prices, claiming extra costs from the Covid pandemic or the Russian attack on Ukraine, while they are making the highest profits ever. Greed and the misuse of power are the hallmarks of an authoritarian state. By giving financial incentives to a group of people around the imperial leader, a tyrant creates oligarchs who protect the power of the one who made them rich.

This week I was intrigued by a comment made by a political analyst who has specialized in studying Russian politics for decades. The interviewer asked her how President Putin’s background might influence his thinking about Ukraine. The Russian specialist commented: ‘He was only a KGB agent for a while and a mediocre one at that. He has been a tyrant for much longer.’ In other words, to understand Putin one needs to understand the behavioral pattern of tyrants. Tyrants are insecure people who gain control of people by convincing them their own safety and well-being is endangered. Once fear is established, people are susceptible to yielding their own freedom to let the tyrant protect them. They are willing to allow the tyrant to commit great atrocities because ‘the end justifies the means” to save them from their perceived enemy. Once the tyrant is given enough power, he then induces fear of himself to maintain his power.

Luke understood the politics of tyranny. It is no surprise that Luke used the phrase “Fear not,” more than any other book in the bible. One of the earliest scenes in Luke’s gospel describes an angel declaring to the lowly shepherds:

“Fear not; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Lk. 2:11)

Zacchaeu must have been searching for more to life than the money he gained from charging exorbitant fees for his tax-collecting for the empire. He came to see Jesus and hear him speak. When Jesus noticed the short man up in the tree, he called him to come down and take him to his house for a meal. The experience transformed Zacchaeus. He repented of his sin and promised to make reparations to the people he exploited. Jesus’ response was:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For   the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:1

Next Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman who goes away and gives ten slaves one pound each with which to do business while he is away. It sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it? This is Luke’s version of the parable of the 10 talents found in Matthew. It is, however, very different in a few details which make the interpretation go in a completely different direction. This parable is not even in the lectionary, and you may see why:

As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not       want this man to rule over us.’ 15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25(And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

In other words, under my rule, the rich will get richer, and the poor will become poorer. Unlike Matthew’s version, this is not a parable about Christian disciples and stewardship. This is about the way the worldly political leaders behave. He goes on to say:

“But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

This was a thinly disguised account of the way the two Herod’s, Herod the Great and Herod of Antipas, gained control of the land in which the Jews lived. The two Herod’s eliminated anyone who did not support their leadership. Sound familiar? This has always been the playbook for authoritarian political leaders.

Now, we come to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The leaders of the Roman empire reveled in military parades. As the Roman Army extended its borders by laying siege to one city and region after another, its victorious generals would march into town parading its soldiers and military hardware, as well as its captives and loot. The Pax Romani, the peace of Rome, was achieved by violent conflict. Rome kept the peace by threats and intimidation.

“There was a marked dichotomy between a Roman military parade and Jesus’ parade from the Mount of Olives to the Jerusalem temple. The Roman cavalry would have ridden upon magnificent stallions decked out as gloriously as their riders. Jesus wore his simple peasant tunic. While Roman generals would have ridden in four-horse chariots, flanked by cavalry and foot soldiers, Luke tells us Jesus entered Jerusalem alone, riding on a colt. The Roman soldiers would have been wearing armor and carrying spears, sending their message of physical intimidation. Jesus came with no protection and no weapon, delivering a message of peace.

Some historians, most notably Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, claim there was a military parade into Jerusalem on this same day. A crowd is always intimidating to political leaders whose power is sustained only by force. During Passover, the city streets would have been crowded with pilgrims, vendors, and soldiers. Passover had significant political overtones in that it was both a religious and patriotic observance. At this time, the Jews remembered and celebrated their liberation from slavery by the Egyptians and the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land that would become their nation, Israel. Once again, they were marginalized by a foreign government. The people who threw their cloaks in Jesus’ path were making a statement of political resistance. The word “hosanna” literally means “save us.”

For the Roman authorities, it would have been a code red event. The occupying Roman army would have been ready to quickly and brutally deal with any disturbance. When Jesus enters the city in this story, he is engaging in trouble, “good trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis advocated. Jesus chose to ride “a donkey and colt,” a direct reenactment of Zechariah’s prophecy about the arrival of a king. A large presence by the Roman military at Passover would be expected. A military parade would demonstrate to the conquered, the Jews, who was boss.

Temple leaders would have been worried that any bit of trouble might strain the peaceful relations they had with the Roman authorities. The Jewish leaders, who opposed Jesus, were believed to have promoted adaptation and accommodation to the empire to avoid conflict. This was a way to maintain their positions of leadership within the Jewish community by assuring the Romans they were not a threat. Luke tells us:

        “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your

         disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the

         stones would shout out.”

We might silence voices of truth, but the truth still remains and will find a way to be heard.

Stones are witnesses to the history of the world. If they could speak, they would answer great mysteries for us. They would also tell us how we have treated one another and the earth. In the rubble of Mariupol and Bucha, the stones will be there for many millennia, silent witnesses to the evil that took place recently. What would the stones in our own country, our own community tell us? What voices are being silenced today?

Today we lift our voices in song and praise to the one who could not be silenced, even in death. Like Zacchaeus, we are invited to sit at the table with Christ and be transformed by his powerful love and gracious forgiveness. Through the remainder of Holy Week, we are called to remember Christ’s journey to the cross for our sakes and prepare to share the joy and wonder of the women who saw the stone rolled away from the entrance to his empty tomb on Easter morning.

Amen. May it be so!

 

 

 

 

 

© Pastor Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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