Text: Luke 19: 28-40
Today is Palm Sunday in our Christian year. It is the day that we recount again the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is relatively uncommon to find details from the life of Jesus in all four gospels, but the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is one of those stories found in all four gospels. All share the central details of the crowd’s greetings of Jesus with “Hosanna’s” and of Jesus riding into the city on the back of a donkey.
Many sermons have been delivered about that donkey and about Jesus’ humility, etc. etc. However this is not an act of humility but an act of anointing that goes back to the Old Testament and ties in Jesus to the line of King David, from which the Messiah was to come. It is a scene much like that described in I Kings 1, where the prophet Nathan, following King David’s instructions, is to “take Solomon to the Gihon spring below the city near the Mount of Olives, place him on David’s own donkey, anoint him together with Zadok the priest, blow the trumpet and say “Long Live King Solomon”. Then they were to follow Solomon up to the city and seat him on David’s throne.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem looks very much like the coronation ceremony for Solomon—-the son of David and successor to the throne of Israel.
That symbolism was not lost on those who greeted Jesus, or on the religious leaders, or on the Romans!!!. His entry was a statement of Jesus’ divine right to rule forever—-of his messiahship—foretold by the prophet Isaiah.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was a revolutionary act!!
We seldom think of Jesus as a “revolutionary” but that was what he was. His mission that he announced at his home synagogue in Nazareth was revolutionary. It foresaw that he would challenge the social, economic and religious domination systems of the day that punished the poor and enriched the rich and powerful. Jesus cast his lot with the ones who were the outcasts of his society and he didn’t just say “let’s help them survive” but his life was dedicated to changing the domination system (economic, political, and social, ) that held them down. In his home synagogue he read the passage from Isaiah that says: “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he told his hearers “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst.”
Revolutionary! Jesus was challenging the political, economic and religious domination system of his day. It’s the poor that are important not the rich and powerful. It is the oppressed that I am sent to, not the comfortable. It was to the outcasts of society that God sent His Son. Revolutionary!!
Today I’d like for us to look at those who participated in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. They were: the crowds, the disciples, the Jewish religious authorities, the Romans—-all participated in some way in this scene of triumphal entry—-just as all would participate, either actively or passively, in the crucifixion of Jesus at the end of that week. Let’s look at each one of the groups:
The Crowds: They shouted “Hosanna! Hosanna! The Greek form of the Hebrew “Hoshianna” found in Psalm 118:25 WHERE IT IS TRANSLATED “Save us we beseech you!” How many of this same crowd later shouted at the palace of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate—-“Crucify him! Crucify him! His blood be upon our heads!! We don’t know!
This was not a mob but were good people and genuinely eager for the messiah to come and save them. They were people who attended the synagogue, God-fearing people, who tried hard to keep the Jewish Law. They were looking for a messiah to deliver them from the conquering Romans—-and when Jesus didn’t do that they would turn against him.
The Religious Authorities: Luke tells us that they had been plotting for some time to get rid of Jesus The Gospel of John tells us what brought them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus “So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
They saw Jesus as a radical revolutionary and they were afraid. They were afraid they would lose their power, their wealth, and even their lives because they were puppets of Rome and if they allowed Jesus to prevail with the people then they would be held responsible by the Roman authorities. JESUS WAS A RADICAL REVOLUTIONARY WHO HAD TO BE ELIMINATED.
These were not evil people. They were the respected, well-educated leaders who led highly moral lives and/or served in the temple as priests. The Pharisees were good and decent law-abiding and their dedication to God was widely respected and admired. But they were seized with fear that this revolutionary named Jesus of Nazareth would bring the fury of Rome down on their heads and they would lose not only their power, wealth, and prestige, but their lives.
The Disciples: The same disciples that arranged for the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem are the ones who deserted Jesus at his arrest, even those closest to Jesus—the Twelve. Their fear for their own lives led them to desert Jesus and go into hiding. After Jesus’ betrayal, the self-appointed leader of the Twelve, Simon Peter, three times denied that he even knew Jesus out of fear for his own life. Only the women disciples and John stood by him to the end! They were at the foot of the cross as he was crucified. We can criticize them, but who among us might not have done the same?
While they had their weaknesses, the Twelve had traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, given up their jobs and livelihoods to follow him, seen him at the moment of Transfiguration, staunchly followed him to Jerusalem although they certainly feared for their own lives and Jesus’ life there. They were good and decent Galileans—they adored Jesus, loved him, and had left jobs and family behind to follow him.
The Romans: Rome had brought the Pax Romanus —the Roman Peace” —-to the known world of the time. It was a RULE OF LAW that is still copied to a great extent by the government of our own nation. While they might be harsh, they sought to be fair—as we will see by the examination of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator. The Roman Peace was enforced by the sword. If a revolutionary threatened the peace the Romans saw it as treason—-punishable by crucifixion.
Although Roman government did not interfere much with religious matters, their ears were very much attuned to any kind of treason or government overthrow being planned. There had been many rebellions in Palestine by Jews called Zealots and they were dealt with swiftly and harshly—many crucifixions took place in order to keep the government stable in Palestine. The Romans were the ones who placed the sign—“The King of the Jews” over Jesus’ head on the cross—showing what they would do to anyone who would proclaim himself king!!!
You know—the sad thing about all of this is that if you were to talk to any of these people described above you would find them to be outwardly decent people who were doing what they thought was the best thing to do! In sum—it was not the rabble and the evil people that crowned Jesus one moment and crucified him later in the week. It was the rank and file people—it was good, decent, synagogue-attending people who demanded his death! It was Roman soldiers carrying out order about a threat to their empire. It was good, law-abiding people. That is the tragedy!
The Question for us is—-What do we do with Jesus today? Do we crown him or crucify him.? That is the question we must ask ourselves this Palm Sunday as we enter Holy Week!!
If Jesus came to America today with his revolutionary ideas about government, religion, and the economic and the social dominations systems that we have now that are very similar to the ones described above in first century Palestine—-that give the power to the rich and use that power to keep the poor down and further enrich themselves–would we in the church welcome him or would we be among the ones in the crowd crying “Crucify him”?? Because Jesus would be on the side of the poor and the outcasts of our society. He would advocate for those who are homeless. He would criticize those who pass laws that keep the poor down and advocate for laws and practices that lift up those in poverty. He would heal those who can’t afford health care and severely chastise those who keep health care from the needy. He would advocate some form of healthcare for all. He would be considered a “bolt” thrown into the machinery of progress. I feel that Jesus would not be recognized, and if he was, would not be allowed in our churches.
Let’s look at the same groups today:
The Government: Is our government crowning Jesus or crucifying him? We have a government made up of good, God-fearing people—-ask any of them and they will generally tell you that. Especially at election time! Do they promote Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God and what that stands for? Or do they crucify him by legislating against all that he stood for? We say on our coins “In God we trust”–-do we?? Or do we trust in our military and police power to enforce what we feel is right, which has very little to do with what Jesus taught? When our government seeks to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor and needy, the mentally ill, the homeless, the hungry—-are we following the teachings of Jesus? When we deny a large group of people medical care in the state of Kansas are we following the teachings of the Great Healer? Are we crucifying Jesus on a cross of our own greed and our desire for power to increase our wealth at the expense of others?
The Religious Authorities: This is a complex area, for we have many “religious authorities” in today’s America. Who really speaks for Jesus Christ and his teachings. And that is perhaps the problem: No one seems willing to forcefully speak for Jesus and what he stands for today. The religious authorities are either too timid, or they are too closely allied to the government and economic system that keeps them comfortable. Like the priests and scribes and Pharisees of old, they are afraid to rock the boat. Most religious leaders and the churches they lead have in the most part been mute about the issues of the day such as compassion for the poor and economic justice and fairness for all. Where was the voice of the church in the health care debate and the extension of Medicaid to those working poor in Kansas who are desperately in need of health-care? We heard from medical doctors and from hospital officials that advocated for that extension of health care. The church has remained silent about withholding health care from thousands of Kansans. Why?
Religious leaders are either so fearful of offending someone that they proclaim a watered-down Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as related to his life and teachings; or, they promote one issue to the exclusion of of all others and dwell on that (e.g. abortion)—-leaving out the love and compassion that Jesus showed on a broad range of issues..
Too many churches and their leaders are following present-day “priests and scribes” who have crowned their own comfort, their success, as their Lord and have through their passivity, fear and selfishness crucified Jesus.
The Disciples: That would be us! The Church. Are we crowning Jesus as Lord of our lives or are we crucifying him out of fear of speaking out or sleeping on the job like the disciples in Gethesemane? What kind of stands have we as a church taken on issues that Jesus came to address in his ministry as he stated them at the synagogue at Nazareth in the words of Isaiah?
Is the church doing these things? Are we taking up the cause of those who are oppressed. Are we preaching good news to the poor? Are we working in behalf of those who are ill to bring them comfort? Are we boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand and that Jesus is Lord? Are we challenging the political and economic and, yes, the religious dominations systems whose purpose is to make the poor poorer and the rich richer? If we are not— we are passively aiding in Jesus’ crucifixion today and trying to preserve ourselves like the original twelve disciples.
The Crowds: Ah yes!! The Crowds! The “rank and file”. The people who inhabit our states and towns and cities of this so-called Christian country! The ordinary people who fill our streets—-good and decent people.!
Are they crowning Jesus as Lord of their lives or are they crucifying him? I am of the opinion that Jesus, while being welcomed by the people of this country in the hope that he will be there to save them if they need it, are crucifying him on a cross of indifference!
Take a drive down the streets of any town or city on Sunday morning, visit any church, and the message becomes clear what decision they have made. True, they do not actively shout crucify him as the crowd did in Jesus time—but by their indifference to Jesus and his teachings they are doing the same thing—-they are ridding the country of this dangerous radical that might interfere in their lives and make them uncomfortable. By their indifference they are shutting him up permanently so his words and call to action don’t bother them anymore.
THE DECISION IS OURS—IT IS NOT POSSIBLE NOT TO DECIDE. By our actions we will either crown Jesus Lord of our Lives or we will crucify him. Which will it be? Do we really want to be members of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed or is it too risky—to dangerous—too costly?
DO WE CROWN JESUS WITH OUR LOVE AND DISCIPLESHIP OR DO WE CROWN HIM WITH A CROWN OF THORNS AND CRUCIFY HIM? Amen