Gospel: Luke 19:28-40
Luke 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.....
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.’
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One night, a man had to walk home through Belfast during The Troubles. On a dark corner, a gun was stuck in his back and a voice hissed, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?"
With some relief he said, "I'm Jewish!"
"Are you a Catholic Jew, or a Protestant Jew?"
I am in two minds about telling this story. It clearly illustrates how we can be consumed by an issue and therefore be completely blind to what is in front of us, but I suspect there are other cultural issues at play to which I am blind. However, the story has a clarity which becomes muddied when we come closer to home seeking a similar illustration; for example, the slow torture of refugees in our concentration camps, where even little children speak of suicide. "But we have to do this to stop the people smugglers and stop people drowning at sea, and keep the country safe," has been the blind mantra of the Australian politics of fear for a couple of decades. We are blind to what is in front of us.
Also close to home, Jesus struggles with a comparable blindness among his own people. Kings were the only way people could think of politics, along with "Are you a Jew or a Roman? Whose side were you on? You must choose a side." People were blind to any sense that perhaps the troubles in which they lived were something greater than Jew versus Roman, and unable to see that perhaps Jewish Nationalism and The Roman Empire were, in the end, the same thing. Rather like the bipartisan dehumanisation and torture of refugees by Australia.
So as Jesus came close to Jerusalem, people could only think of Kings, and Uprisings, and Victories, and Restoring the Kingdom. Luke tells us that Jesus "went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately." (Luke 19:1) It's an appalling tale of brutality and injustice, and of the pointlessness of much political struggle; those who oppose the tyrant end up being killed; the collaborators got richer, as usual. Tyranny ruled.
This parable tells us nothing about God. Jesus and God are not in this story, and if we find them there, we have misunderstood the Gospel entirely. What this parable does— After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem— what this parable does, is tell us how not to read Palm Sunday. This man coming into the city is neither Protestant nor Catholic, neither Jew nor Roman. His kingdom has nothing to do with any of those struggles, which are essentially all the same, and which all have the same end: tyranny and death.
Jesus can't escape the imagery of the king entering the city— are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew, we have to keep the borders safe and stop people drowning— but he can begin to undermine the violent imagery of the king and draw people back to the gospel of an earlier time. Here the king came in peace on a donkey, not on a warhorse. (Zechariah 9:9) Jesus also comes into the city from the Mount of Olives, which is the place from where the Messiah will come to rescue Israel in Zechariah 14:3-10. The cloaks laid on the ground witness that he is truly Lord, and that his disciples submit to him. (cf 2 Kings 9:11ff) Jesus says that what he is doing is so significant that even the stones would cry out if his disciples were to remain silent.
And he weeps for the city, and for us:
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.
Jesus knew that tyranny ruled. He knew he would be killed. Yet he organised a street theatre or prophetic sign, (see Ezekiel 4 for something similar.) knowing few would see or understand what he acted out. Knowing most would still think of a conventional king and tyrant who just happened to be on their side. What did he hope to achieve?
If he really thought many people would listen and understand, he was wrong. He was a self-proclaimed King of Peace who failed miserably because the mass of the people did not back him up in Jerusalem, and the troubles continued, and the tyranny ruled as always. If that's what happened, then the gospel story as we have it unravels into a post-crucifixion fabrication; some sort of inspired insight about dying and being raised— but not really raised, a gospel which always seems to me to have a lie at its centre. If we only die, I would rather do my best to love without all the religious pretence. And try to live honestly with the knowledge that in a generation or two all that I do will be forgotten.
But the story says he knew he would be killed. The story says he expected to survive this death in some way, to be raised. (eg Luke 9:21-22) The story claims not to be a post crucifixion fabrication, but to be a realisation that he really did intuit and trust that death does not end us; that some-thing of us goes on beyond death because what we call death is our misinterpretation of the life which God gives us and does not take from us. He trusted God that walking willingly into death when the time comes— and it most likely won't be the time of our choosing— walking willingly into death when the time comes is to take the path to life. And when he did this, and was killed, the reports of resurrection which followed his death were true; he was not destroyed but raised. That's the story.
So perhaps, instead of seeking to provoke a revolt against Rome and its collaborators, he was consciously choosing to enter into something deeper, and even to model a way of living for us to follow.
I am much more certain about what he has provoked in me, which is a growing allergy to an us and them, right or wrong, understanding of life. If I must be right, I always end up doing a violence against you, even if it is only that I demand you respect and admire me, and defer to me so that I may have more possessions and feel secure. There is no peace for you or me.
Reluctantly I have begun to see that to love, to care, to make room for others, and to be merciful, is what truly enriches a life. And I am reluctant because it costs me. I am not free to do as I wish. I am aligned with the vulnerable. I am at risk, despite all my privilege.
The enrichment has been a growing sense of freedom from fear. It has begun, oddly, in being free to feel, and able to comprehend, just how full of fear I have been, and still am. But it has also been felt in the ability to enter into places and tasks which were once too hard, and not possible; too hard and not possible because I was too afraid even to see I was afraid.
And here we are again, a few days before Palm Sunday. It is as though Jesus is inviting me to enter the city of life with him again, inviting me to commit myself to him again. Reassuring me that even if I am the one crucified that there will be life. He is inviting me to step out of Facebook, to turn away from the TV, and to enter into life.
Andrew Prior (2019)
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