South of the Hugh River, NT 2016

Pain on my Parade

Week of Sunday March 24 - Palm Sunday
Gospel: Luke 19:28-40

19:11 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. 27But 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.”

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘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. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’

35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,38saying,

‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’

39Some 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.’

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’

As a kid I thought of Palm Sunday as Jesus' version of John Martin's Christmas Pageant, and imagined the whole city lined up to watch. This would then be contrasted by the minister, or Sunday School teachers, with the condemnation of Jesus by the very same crowd a few days later—Crucify him!—and made great theatre.

Jerusalem was always in a touchy mood at Passover, with a heavy military presence, so it is unlikely that Jesus could have survived anything remotely like that kind of parade. Both the parade and the cleansing of the temple had to be quick guerrilla actions for him to avoid arrest.

It is not possible to work out what actually happened on the day.  We only have  Luke's telling of the story. It is different from the other Gospels. No palms or branches of any kind. What does he want us to see in his story?

In Luke's telling Jesus is approaching the path leading down from the Mount of Olives, the place of the Day of the Lord, (37) and not even in the city. I imagine the event as a piece of street theatre. Luke's Jesus has a point to make.

Street theatre, and church drama during worship, can be complete failures; ham fisted, embarrassing and boring. They can also be electrifying, either sliding into the psyche like a knife so sharp that we don't realise until later that we have been cut, or bludgeoning us into shocked recognition; in either case our picture of the world is disrupted.

Earlier this year a colleague witnessed a dramatisation of the temptations of Jesus by Satan. In that part of the story where Satan takes Jesus up on a high mountain, the actor vaulted up onto the communion table, and spoke from there. My colleague reported that the congregation was completely engaged!

Jesus does something like this; people are engaged. Some of the audience are delighted and excited, seeing a truth with new eyes. Others are scandalised. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd say to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answers, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ (19:38-9)

What did his theatre do? What was it saying?

  • The story quotes Psalm 118. Someone who was alone and without God, and deserving of punishment , has been made righteous. "The stone that the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone." (118:22) Read Luke as an early follower of Jesus, where one's Lord was scorned and ridiculed. And then hear the crowd:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.   
We bless you from the house of the Lord. 

We could note that it is the crowd of disciples  who utter this praise, (37) not the whole crowd of the city, which my childhood image understood.

  • He is drawing near to Jerusalem. This is all part of the journey to the cross.
  • In Zechariah (14:4), when The Day of the Lord comes, the Lord would approach Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. (John Petty)
  • He is riding a colt, not a war horse. Zechariah 9:9 says

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
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. 
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
   and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
   and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
   and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

He is a king who will bring peace! Fitzmyer says an unridden colt is "fit for a King." (pp 1249)

  • He is hailed as a King; the one who comes in the name of the Lord
  • They spread their clothes on the road, which one did for Kings. Indeed, in the case of Jehu it is a sign that they recognise he is to be king instead of the one who was king before him (2 Kings 9:1-13)
  • The people also shout, "Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" It links back to Chapter 2 in verse 14; the angels' song. This is all part of the same God ordained story, it is no accident. 
  • He comes via Bethphage and Bethany. I don't know what Bethany refers to, but point of Bethphage is clear: it is the House of Unripe Figs.
  • The stones would cry out. Given that Jesus' next act is to cleanse the Temple, (19:45-48) it is tempting to see the stones as an allusion to Habakkuk 2:11

 ‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
   setting your nest on high
   to be safe from the reach of harm!’ 
10 You have devised shame for your house
   by cutting off many peoples;
   you have forfeited your life. 
11 The very stones will cry out from the wall,
   and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.
12 ‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
   and found a city on iniquity!’ 
13 Is it not from the Lord of hosts
   that peoples labour only to feed the flames,
   and nations weary themselves for nothing? 
14 But the earth will be filled
   with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
   as the waters cover the sea. 

  • Luke 1:28 says, "After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem." Jesus leads us to Jerusalem after a particular parable. Luke instructs us to look back at the parable of the pounds to see more about the procession down the Mount of Olives.

The parable of the pounds has an addition to the story as it is told in Matthew 25:14ff. In Luke 19:12 the "nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself, and then return." There were some who followed him to object. At the end of the parable,  we have this addition: "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." (27) The parable does not need these additions; it is complete in itself.

The additions only make sense if there is a clear cultural reference; that is, if a nobleman did go off and get royal power, and then return and enact violent retribution on those who opposed him. Loader suggests that the story of Archelaeus is embedded in people's minds.

Luke seems to be deliberately echoing the story of Archelaus, who on the death of his father, Herod the Great, returned to Jerusalem and ruled with great cruelty until deposed by the Romans 10 years later in 6 CE. ....

What does all this mean? People may have shuddered at the thought of the cruel Archelaus. Is Luke perhaps suggesting that such cruelty still applies? Is the time of the trampling of Jerusalem (21:24) akin to Archelaus’s reign or his return? Certainly the servants of God should be conscientious in the meantime. One of the effects of Luke’s composition is to set Archelaus’s return in contrast to the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem. Jesus comes as the prince of peace.

The coming of Kings and Messiahs is thus a time of great danger, and not necessarily a time of rejoicing. Luke is also telling his story in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. By the time of Luke, all the conventional hopes for a conquering Messiah were not only overturned with the traders' tables, but in enormous suffering with the destruction of the temple and much of the city.

But where does this all find its emotional punch? Can it transform from a dot pointed list from a culture which is alien to us, into a story that grips us and would have us shouting out in the crowd. What would make this story real?

I remember standing in King William Street as a small boy, and my mother telling me to look now, quickly. For a few moments, I could see my father marching past among thousands of other returned servicemen. It was not yet 20 years since the War. I saw plenty of men from the first War, and remember a Landrover carrying two or three old Boer War veterans!

Later, I began to cry at parades. I choked up at the Christmas Pageants even as I pointed out the floats to my kids. I saw Dr. Joe Whitehouse and Bill Powell, old Z Force survivors, go past one ANZAC Day, and wept. Even when I sat with the kids on the footpath and watched some of the Bay to Birdwood go past, I felt the familiar stirring of emotions. In the Palm Sunday Peace Marches and the anti-war protests my emotions ranged into territory I could not fathom.

Since that first ANZAC Day I have lost the innocence of childhood. I understand that parades are a display of high hopes, betrayed ideals, and terrible memories. We farewell people going to be killed, or welcome home survivors who have sometimes lost all peace, and been forced into atrocious behaviour merely to survive.

Even The Pageant betrays us, bread and circuses, a magic cave, but never a Messiah. Be happy. Bring your children; it's practice for Anzac Day; uniforms, bands and marching. Hayward began the pageant during The Depression to lift people's spirits; sometimes it seems to me that parades pretend; they gloss over the ugliness and evils of life.

I do not fully understand why I weep and smile at parades, or how they encompass all our hopes and horrors together.

But Jesus held a parade....
Parody, prophecy,
joy and sorrow.  
Prince of Peace,
march and follow.
Pray, and hope
your dream's not hollow.

Three Parades

But the band played Waltzing Matilda,
as they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
then they turned all their faces away.
And so now every April, I sit on me porch,
and I watch the parades pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly,
old bones stiff and sore.
They're tired old heroes from a tired on war
And the young people ask, what are they marching for?
And I ask myself the same question.   Eric Bogle


Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing-out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets....

And the Anzac legends didn't mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real.
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn't even feel
God help me, I was only nineteen.
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what's this rash that comes and goes,
can you tell me what it means?

God help me, I was only nineteen. Redgum


Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
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. 
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. Zechariah


Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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Kathy 17-03-2013
Your connections to parades and the emotions you feel in watching them are very powerful. I have to say I have never really thought about what people present on the first Palm Sunday might have felt, other than being sort of caught up in the excitement of the moment. Thanks for taking me there.

Meaningful in our time?
Greg and Andrew 21-03-2013
Hi Andrew, I read right through this one. Two questions lingered. What does it mean for us today, to take up our cross? What is the significance of the suffering of Jerusalem in its destruction? Overall, how do we translate these historic events into something meaningful for us in our time and situation? Greg This is the question! How do we find something meaningful for our own time? We talked a little about this in our weekly bible study at Hare Street. How do we get from an intellectual understanding of the text that has studied the background, and sources, and redaction, to something that applies to us? This appropriation of the sources and traditions is the key task of religion. It is the making real of the tradition; the tapping into the spirit of the religion; the grasping of the greater reality to which the tradition is pointing. We make our own meaning using the tradition, and our experience, as building blocks. The last part of my post on the Palm Sunday reading reflected my attempt to open myself to the realities that Luke is speaking about. I have dwelled upon my emotions that well up when I am at a parade. I trust that somewhere in that I will find more building blocks for my life; further directions for how I will live. I describe the task of helping people find the meaningful in our old texts and tradition, by using the metaphor of "the art of religion." Art is a "letting go" of the purely intellectual to discern and reflect and re-present the whole reality around us. "Good" art taps into the wider reality, and shows us more of life and who we are, whereas other "artworks" (like those beloved of home improvement shows,) are less perceptive, badly executed, or plain kitsch. Art is not simply subjective. Just as we have widely accepted skills and standards in hermeneutics and literary criticism, art understands and uses perspective, ratios; eg, the golden ratio, colour harmonies and contrasts, and so on. "Good" art generally reflects good technique. Our approach to the lectionary is the same. It looks for shape, flow, rhythm, context, perspective... and then makes that art-ful leap into re-presentation. Good exegesis 'does the science.' Hermeneutics—interpretation—makes the leap. It cannot be forensic; it is not maths. Hermeneutics questions and suggests, rather than directs or insists. "How can you say you are carrying your cross when you not only live in more luxury than you need; more than most of the world, but you are seeking still more, and seeking to make yourself even more secure?" This I can ask you. I cannot tell you that how you live does not carry a cross. Like art, our hermeneutics reflect who we are. I used to speak of pain mostly in terms of the physical. My appreciation of psychic pain was theoretical, and shallow. Now I am older. I live with someone, and love her and give myself to her, and fail her. I have suffered life threatening illness, and bereavement. I think and speak of pain differently. And so to parades: I am always churned and alienated by parades. My friend who saw her young husband marching off the ship at the end of the war, still alive, coming home to a child he had never seen, may always watch parades with a memory of joy and relief; to her they are forever a gift. So you and I cannot mandate and define each other's theological art, aka discipleship. We can only ask how much it is a fair re-presentation of the tradition. How much does it reflect a generous spirit; the spirit of the endlessly, lavishly giving God? Or do we remain an elder brother, unable to discern the love and the freedom and gifting in which we live our every moment? Is our art converting us from being an older brother as we see new realities? I have watched my daughter—who is an artist—and myself as we work at our respective art. Practise, repetition, failure, dead ends, 'out-there' ideas, frustration. All these things refine our ability to draw more fluidly, more insightfully, and more truly. In my case that means drawing conclusions, ideas, and word pictures. She has scrawled on the back of her studio door, "To be an artist is to dare to fail as no other dare to fail." Perhaps to be a Christian is to dare to give as no other dare to give. That would guide our hermeneutic! As a preacher I'm a bit like a good gallery guide. I can't tell you what to make of a picture; what it means. I can give you background and perspective. I can alert you to common misconceptions and failed efforts to understand the work. My calling is to help you re-present the work; to find the hooks into your own life. And perhaps we can be church by doing some of that imagining together rather than it being a solitary personal pursuit. You may even think that your drawing is rather more accomplished than mine; it may well be!, but we will work together. Andrew

Re Meaningful in our time
Andrew 21-03-2013
See also: Andrew

Ho sannah Hey sannah sanna sanna ho
Henry 21-03-2013
Thank you for including me in your weekly biblical writings Andrew. I really like your style and your historical perspective. So the JC Superstar version of Chris's coming into Jerusalem isn't quite how it really went down with Jesus... or so the gospel tells us; pity, I liked the singing in that part of JC. But picturing it now in my mind's eye as you described it, Andrew, is quite likely to have been how it really happened. As for parades you have certainly shared an experience which I can relate to. For me, parades are about people and power. The spectators acknowledge the heroes of war, the winners and survivors while watching in awe at the entertainers in the Christmas parade and wishing they could be a part of such a spectacle. I can see what you said about Christ's entry in Jerusalem as being Street Theatre like - where were the 5,000 that day? Looking forward to your Easter Blog, Andrew. Q7YMR

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