Today’s reading is from the Jerusalem Bible version of the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 19, verses 28 to 40:
“Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany,
at the mount that is called Olivet,
he sent two disciples,
saying, ‘Go into the village opposite,
where on entering you will find a colt tied,
on which no one has ever yet sat;
untie it and bring it here.
If any one asks you,
“Why are you untying it?”
you shall say this,
“The Lord has need of it.”’
So those who were sent
went away and found it as he had told them.
And as they were untying the colt,
its owners said to them,
‘Why are you untying the colt?’
And they said,
‘The Lord has need of it.’
And they brought it to Jesus,
and throwing their garments on the colt
they set Jesus upon it.
And as he rode along,
they spread their garments on the road.
As he was drawing near,
at the descent of the Mount of Olives,
the whole multitude of the disciples
began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice
for all the mighty works that they had seen,
‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him,
‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’
‘I tell you, if these were silent,
the very stones would cry out.’”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Palm Sunday is as much a time for reflection on what has been happening in our lives as it is a time of anticipation for what is yet to come. If we think for just a moment, we see that some aspects of our lives are well put together. Other aspects seem more open-ended or perhaps even incongruous. And so it is with today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.
As we read that passage, we can sense that the preparations for securing Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem evidently were planned in advance. For example, there seems to have been some kind of understanding at work about how the colt was to be procured. And yet the arrival itself is so strange. Jesus’ triumphal entry came on the back of an untested animal, who could have flung him to the ground at any moment. As he entered the city, people put their coats in his path. They broke out into singing and exhortation, as they blessed the king who came in the name of the Lord, as the religious leaders in the crowd called upon Jesus to rebuke them.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was both a liminal moment and a dangerous time. It was liminal because Jesus truly had crossed the threshold in his fulfillment of prophecies and towards the completion of his earthly ministry. It was dangerous because someone who would have attracted a large crowd would have been regarded as a threat to Roman rule.
For all the perceived planning, the strangeness, the liminality, and the danger of Jesus’ arrival, it was first and foremost a statement about power. On the face of it, Jesus is mimicking the status of earthly rulers and principalities. Indeed, Roman society expected its successful generals to arrive in triumphal processions. But what kind of “king” is Jesus? Is he one, who weaponizes violence to pursue personal or political goals? Or is he one, who restores the brokenness of the people to wholeness through “deeds of power” after worldly leaders have wrought their violence upon them?
Indeed, for all of their incongruity, the arrangements for obtaining the colt, as well as the rebuke of the Pharisees, give us a deeper understanding that Roman society and its governing institutions were unsettled by the broader movement of support for Jesus and his disciples. We see that Jesus was not just a nice young man, who said a few kind things, and did some unexplainable – but helpful – deeds. His birth, life, and ministry were revolutionary.
Through the example of God in Christ, we are shown to trust in the Lord and not in the words of politicians, military, or even religious leaders. Indeed, it is that feeling of trust which underwrites our faith at the heart of our belief in God. It is God’s grace that permits us the gift of faith. It is our faith, in turn, which is the appropriate human response to divine grace and enables us to show compassion to others and to ourselves. Life will neither be perfect nor simple for the followers of God, but their faith will eventually bear fruit in the hearts and in the lives of others. It was the compassion of Jesus and his disciples that struck a chord and reached to the core of creation, such that even the very stones would cry out. Amen and Amen.