Congratulations, you made it to Palm Sunday! You have almost completed another journey through Lent. Whether you gave something up this year, or added something this year, your spiritual experiment is almost at an end. But not quite. We have one more week. Holy Week. And although as a culture we celebrate Christmas more than Easter, Easter is a pretty big deal. For the ancient church, it was The Big Deal.
Resurrection changes everything. Every Sunday is a little resurrection, which is why you don’t fast on Sundays during Lent. Resurrection is nothing but joy and celebration. But we don’t get there without going through the passionate agony of Holy Week. I’ve been telling you for weeks that Lent is the season that prepares us to embrace the full meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus, which we will commemorate this coming Friday.
Jesus shows us what it is to live a righteous life, a life fully in line with God’s love. But the systems of the world will always resist and try to crush that kind of person. Faithful prophets whose words and lives point out the unfaithfulness of others are never going to be popular. They are right, but that rightness is very dangerous for them. Jesus enters glory by way of suffering and rejection— which he has said all along — which his disciples never wanted to hear — which we never want to hear. We want our paths to be smooth and safe, but the story of Jesus life and death show us over and over that the life a truly righteous person, a person who stands up for what is right, is never smooth and safe. Which leads us to consider this morning, as Holy Week begins, what kind of king we want and what kind of kingdom we will seek.
You already know the beginning of this morning’s story but we’re going to read a little past the familiar stuff today. Listen now in the reading of the scriptures for the word and wisdom of God.
[Luke 19:29-44, Contemporary English Bible] As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say, ‘Its master needs it.’” Those who had been sent found it exactly as he had said.
As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
They replied, “Its master needs it.”
They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.
As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”
He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”
As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.”
When Jesus entered the temple, he threw out those who were selling things there. He said to them, “It’s written, My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a hideout for crooks.”
Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests, the legal experts, and the foremost leaders among the people were seeking to kill him. However, they couldn’t find a way to do it because all the people were enthralled with what they heard.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
What kind of king do you want and what kind of kingdom will you seek? Jesus’ followers sing “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” And they are right, sort of. Jesus is a king, but not necessarily the kind they want. They long for a king who will drive out the Romans and they hope Jesus will be that king, despite how many times he’s told them that he’s going to suffer and die. They still have dreams of political revolution, which may be why the Pharisees try to hush them, because Rome reacts violently to revolution in its territories. But Jesus won’t silence them because what’s the point? His kingship is a reality and if the people don’t proclaim it, the very stones of the earth will shout it out.
Jesus knows that some people will recognize his kingship for what it really is and will seek his kingdom. But others will keep looking for a king to lead their political revolution. Thirty years after Jesus died, another series of attempts at political revolution had a devastating result. In the year 70, the Roman general Titus laid siege to the city of Jerusalem for seven months, starving the people within and crucifying anyone who tried to escape. Finally he broke through all the walls of the city, reduced them to rubble and utterly destroyed the temple. Just as Jesus laments in the verses we read this morning. The people who sought a political kingdom to rival the Roman empire experienced first-hand what can happen when revolution fails.
Jesus says this happened because they refused to recognize God’s appearance among them and they did not know the things that made for peace. Jerusalem, the city of peace, rejected God’s peaceable kingdom and God’s righteous king.
As we begin this Holy Week, anticipating the crucifixion of the righteous king, we must ask ourselves if we know the things that make for peace. Because God does not force them on us. The power of God’s love is not a forceful power. It’s a persuasive power. God will not make you do what God wants; God will keep trying to get you to want to do what God wants. Persuasion, not force. Are we persuaded by the things that make for peace? Luke’s gospel tells us what they are: repentance first and foremost, our willingness to change our hearts and actions, to change our allegiance from the empire to the kingdom. What else makes for peace? A willingness to live with enough and reject the fear of scarcity that leads to excess. Using our money according to God’s design. What else makes for peace? God’s preferential option for the poor. What else makes for peace? Generosity with no expectation of repayment. What else makes for peace? Just taxation and an end to military oppression. What else makes for peace? Honoring women and valuing daughters. What else makes for peace? Providing healing to all who are sick, whether rich or poor. What else makes for peace? Releasing our deathgrip on religious traditions and reevaluating what it means to be holy and righteous. What else makes for peace? A willingness to suffer violence rather than do violence. These are the things that make for peace, that bear witness to presence of God’s kingdom among us.
What we see throughout Luke’s gospel is that we get to choose what kind of king we want and what kind of kingdom we will seek. If we seek the things that make for peace, we will follow Jesus, straight into death, because that’s what always happens to prophets who live and speak in a way that reveals the cruelty and depravity of the system.
However, if we seek political revolution, if we seek the power of empire, then we should not be surprised when the empire fights fire with fire and we wind up burned. In just a few chapters when Jesus is arrested in the garden he reminds his followers that those who live by the sword will die by it.
So, unfortunately, it sounds like either way, this triumphal entry leads to death. But we get to choose what kind of death it is. Is it a righteous death that exposes the depravity and cruelty of the system? Or is it a futile death where we are crushed by a system we were never strong enough to stop? Are we willing to suffer violence or are we only willing to do violence? What kind of king do we really want? And what kind of kingdom are we really seeking? Where do we place our trust? In the power of force or the power of persuasion? As we begin this Holy Week, we know where Jesus is going. We must ask ourselves if we trust him enough to go there with him. Amen.