Luke 19:35-40 (CEV)
35 Then they led the donkey to Jesus. They put some of their clothes on its back and helped Jesus get on. 36 And as he rode along, the people spread clothes on the road in front of him. 37 When Jesus was starting down the Mount of Olives, his large crowd of disciples were happy and praised God because of all the miracles they had seen. 38 They shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God.”
39 Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, make your disciples stop shouting!”
40 But Jesus answered, “If they keep quiet, these stones will start shouting.”
Jesus is headed up towards Jerusalem. This is the ‘Palm Sunday’ story. Three years of Jesus’ ministry is coming to an end.
At this point in the story everybody thinks that Jesus is going to raise up a Jewish army to overthrow the Roman powers. At this point in the story Jesus’ popularity is at its pinnacle.
The road is full to overflowing with people coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and it’s traditional that as they make this long pilgrimage they sing through many of the Psalms on their way along the path – including this passage from Psalm 118:26.
So on the one hand, the actions of the crowds are completely normal and reasonable.
But on the other hand, if we read these words in the context of the broader text of Psalm 118 we realize that it’s also incredibly provocative. You see, Psalm 118 is full of trust in a God who “defeats all of my hateful enemies” (v. 7). It suggests that the Lord is a better place to put your trust than “strong leaders” (v. 8). That when the nations surround (v. 9), when they attack from all sides (v. 10), that even when their attacks are so fierce that we almost die, that the Lord will save (vv. 13 – 16).
More than that, there is good evidence that Jesus was probably entering Jerusalem from one direction at the very same time as Pilate was entering from the other direction, and the timing, similarities and differences between Jesus’ entry on a donkey with a bunch of pilgrims and Pilate’s entry in a gleaming chariot with a full contingent of Roman soldier’s is striking.
And it’s not like the people are subtle.
It becomes very apparent – very quickly – that Jesus is the one that the people are directing these songs to this year.
Something has changed.
The people have come to see Jesus as the Messiah – and so confer on him the role of political and military saviour of Israel.
Which is a problem for the Pharisees, because they have made a deal with the Romans. The Romans let the Pharisees have full jurisdiction over religious matters provided they support the political and military power of the Romans over the Jews.
Like many religious leaders today, the Pharisees have sold out their convictions to get into bed with power. They have chosen influence, wealth and prestige over their God-given responsibility to act with integrity and justice.
Jesus’ popularity – and the crowd’s cheers – therefore place the Pharisees in a very dangerous position.
They risk stiff penalties and retribution against them and against the people if the Romans catch wind of this “protest”.
And even though we’ll see that Jesus already knows it’s not going to end in military action, he defends the right of the people to shout. In fact, he tells the Pharisees that even if they could get the people to stop shouting that the very rocks would take up the song.
But why should we care – 2000 years later – that Jesus doesn’t try to silence the people?
Because Jesus stands above the power politics of the Pharisees.
Jesus stands in stark contrast to the wealth and opulence of Cesar, and his representative Pilate.
And yet he is the one to which the very rocks will cry out and cheer.
When we get confused, discouraged or disappointed by the powers and authorities that we are surrounded by, we have Palm Sunday to remind us that this kind of power has nothing on Jesus; that wealth and opulence stand in direct contradiction to the way Jesus does things; and that neither power nor wealth nor prestige nor influence will stand in the way of Jesus being recognized as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Today, we have a choice.
Today, we get to choose whether we go along with the religious and political powers that be, or whether we stand with the oppressed, the abused and the marginalized.
Today, we get to choose whether we join with the rocks in song, or whether we ask for the shouting to stop.
Which will you choose?Journal Questions:
- When was the last time you saw something on the news or on social media that made you wish for justice?
- When was the last time you sided with the oppressed, the abused or the marginalized.
- When was the last time you praised God-Who-Is-For-Us for being for an ‘us’ that is greater than just those who look like us or sound like us or understand their gender or sexual identity the same as us?
- How can you practice this kind of radical justice – this kind of radical hospitality – this kind of radical worship – this week?