Zechariah 9:9-10; Luke 19:29-44
Last summer when Pope Francis came to the United States, he flew into DC and was greeted by President Obama and his family as well as VP Biden and his family, along with many other people. He spoke to Congress, and traveled to New York and Pittsburgh before heading back to the Vatican. He spoke to thousands of crowds, from small meetings with important people to washing the feet of homeless people. He was on his US Tour. And even though he was offering people worship and blessing rather than entertainment, the curiosity factor meant that many people who had never cared before found themselves standing on the street, trying to get a glimpse.
I'm sure the curiosity factor was no less a part of the day when Jesus rode on the donkey and his disciples celebrated his entry into Jerusalem. Who wouldn't be curious in a small town to see this unlikely rabbi and his friends walking down the street putting coats on the ground for him to step on, as though they are ushering in a new king! And yet this isn't quite the parade we usually make it out to be-- especially in Luke's Gospel. In Luke, you may have noticed, there are no palms, no enormous crowds throwing confetti, and not many people on the outside. Instead we see a group of disciples, along with a larger gathering of supporters and followers, walking with Jesus into the city that they loved-- to the temple that they honored. It couldn't have been that big of a group, or the Roman authorities would've shut the whole thing down; and in fact, in Luke's Gospel the Pharisees (religious authorities) do tell them to shut the whole thing down. Their problem with Jesus has always been that they can't control him, and anyone they can't control can easily get them in trouble with the Roman authorities. They are allowed to be in charge; to be leaders as a trade off for the Roman authorities to maintain a forced peace. A crowd that gets too big; a crowd that is following someone other than Caesar; a crowd that is calling for a different way of life-- that is a threat to the system and could cost them their jobs if not their lives.
No, Jesus' entry isn't like the Pope's visit. It's a group of people committed to following Jesus. It's a group that has been with him for awhile now-- long enough to have their own hopes and dreams for what will be. Long enough to know that there' something different that they are called to, even if they don't know where it will lead them. What they do expect, as do the Pharisees, is that somewhere along the way, their lives will be asked of them. They are expecting a change in the system-- a different kind of life-- and they are willing to risk their own lives if that's what it will take. No, Jesus' entry isn't like the Pope's visit where thousands of admirers come; it's more like the March on Selma 61 years ago. Where people who were truly committed, walked on a path that was completely uncertain, a path that they were sure could lead to violence, and yet it was a path walked by people who held out hope that something would change, that in fact, so much had already changed.
As Christians we sometimes get the impression that everything started with Jesus. But Jesus was never under that impression. Here he is, on the day of his triumph, the day he has come to claim his authority in so many ways, and he does so by fulfilling the words of Zechariah written hundreds of years before. "Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem. The bow used in battle will be cut off; he will speak peace to the nations. His rule will stretch from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth."
Anyone in the crowd that day, anyone of his disciples who recognized it, who vaguely remembered the prophecy as they went to get the colt, would've been filled with awe and wonder; filled with excitement. The Scriptures are coming true! Here he is! They know he is the Messiah, but now others will know too. He will rule from sea to sea! Today is the day he is claiming that he is King!
But Jesus was focused on a different part of that passage. Jesus rides in on the colt, humble and righteous. He is fully aware of the warhorse that Caesar rides in on from the other side of the city each year, declaring his own kind of peace. And Jesus recognizes that what he is doing is both a religious statement and a political statement, and yet it is more than that. It is a statement about who God is. Jesus is not bringing his own agenda; he is reliving and reviving God's agenda from Zechariah and Jeremiah and Isaiah and so many Israelite prophets who had visions of a future filled with hope and peace; a future in which Jubilee happens-- where slaves go free and those who are in debt are released from that debt; a society in which men make sure that all children are taken care of, and the poor and the widows find dignity and worth. Jesus has been showing them what it means to live as a child of God, even in the midst of a police state and a culture of violence. So when Jesus sees the temple, sees in the eyes of his disciples their expectations of what they want it to mean that he is the Messiah, and understands where all of this is going to lead-- the violence that will take place-- not just to him but to the temple, to the people he loves, how the whole system is set up for violence when all he has been doing is proclaiming peace, Jesus weeps.
Last week I had the privilege of working with Eric Law, a man who has been working for over thirty years to help people come together and be transformed. His work took shape during the Rodney King riots as he began to help people listen to each other and grow in empathy for one another. Since then he has led many workshops on becoming good at communicating across cultures and has created tools to bring people together. After our second day together, as we had begun to get to know each other well and had created a space of trust, Jaydee, a middle aged African American woman asked him a question,"If the Holy Spirit has been working at bringing us together since the beginning of Creation, breathing into people's lives love instead of fear, to break down walls of injustice and racism, why in the world hasn't it happened yet?" And the whole room went silent. She put in words the feeling of despair that so many of us have had that have tried to do the hard work of listening and communicating that makes for peace.
You've been there, haven't you? You go back to your hometown determined to be an adult; determined to be gracious and have the conversations you need to have; and yet when you return, everything dissolves into the same family dynamics you have always experienced.
Or you go to a community forum because you are curious about changes that are happening and when you arrive you find community members debating issues rather than listening to each other, having already picked sides.
Or you take part in our political process, going to the polls and participating in caucusing, only to be disappointed by everyone's mixed agenda, lack of organization, or complete rigidity in the way they're organized.
Or you come to church and you want to experience that most wonderful feeling of belonging, and then in the course of being a community, you are disappointed in some way; and you don't know what to do about it.
Is it so different from Jesus' frustration that his community doesn't understand what true peace looks like? Is it so different from the disciple's frustration that Jesus isn't taking the bull by the horns like they expected him to? Is it so different from the Pharisees feeling immense fear that things will get out of control and Rome will crush them all?
The scale may be different, but the intensity of fear and doubt and discouragement, is very much the same.
This is a day of triumph! Jesus is finally recognized for his power and strength! Or is he? Is that just what we've made Palm Sunday out to be? We who so desire someone to come in and right our wrongs, we who are so convinced that even though we say God is love, we would really rather God show up with might.
Someone once told me that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
By that definition, we live in an insane world. A world that keeps trying to take over with might. A world that keeps trying to make things right by overpowering the one we think is wrong. In our nation, in our region, in our church, in our families, in our work places, even within our own hearts. We just keep trying to muscle our way into a new future. And God says, no. That's not it.
"If only on this day, you knew that which makes for peace" Jesus tells them. It starts with today. It starts with today. We are called to trust in the Lord and to lean not on our own understanding. That means we have to keep practicing the ways of love-- compassion for those who are victims of our failed systems and accountability to our leaders-- both political and religious-- to work for the day of Jubilee. To work for a day of peace through love, not violence. To work for the Kingdom that God has set before us-- a Kingdom of peace, hope, and love for ALL people, not just some. Not just us. Jesus said that in order to gain our lives, we must lose them. It wasn't just something he said. We must let go of all of the things in our own lives, in our own hearts, that are keeping us from loving each other. As we will see when we continue on the journey this week, as we will see as Jesus continues on his journey this week, he will show us the extent to which he will go to live out God's love in a world of fear.