Luke 19.28. After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ 34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,38saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
I’ll Be Back. The story goes that a community-wide Easter pageant assigned various people in the town to play the different parts. The character of Jesus went to a most unlikely person – a big, burly, barroom brawler, an oilfield worker. He was clearly the most unlikely person to be cast as Jesus. After several weeks of rehearsals, the day of the Easter Pageant finally arrived.
When they came to the part of the play where Jesus was being led away to be crucified, one little man, filling in as a part of the crowd, got caught up in the emotion of the drama. As Jesus was led away toward Calvary, he joined in the shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Then, while shouting insults at the top of his lungs, he accidentally sprayed some spit in the face of the character playing Jesus as the actor walked by carrying the cross on his back. The oilfield worker stopped in his tracks, reached up and wiped his face dry. And then he looked at the little man and said: “I’ll be back to take care of you after the resurrection.” – Homiletics (March/April, 1992)
There is this image of Jesus that many people have: Peacefully sitting with children and lambs, with a glazed smile and a halo. Present, but removed from these silly humans. But the gospels describe Jesus regularly attending dinner parties and hanging out with “fringe” people. I’m one of those who believe that Jesus not only wept in public sometimes, he had an active sense of humor, laughed hard, and I think he would appreciate that joke. That loud character at the party? That was Jesus laughing.
If you follow what he had been doing and saying up to this point in the gospel story, the punch line of the joke was pretty close to what he’d been saying along: Yeah, they’re going to kill me, but I’ll be back. He keeps repeating it. At the time, his own people thought it was pretty crazy. He keeps saying this thing about being killed; Jesus – stop talking like that! But he’s healing people, walking on water, raising people from the dead. They decide to just keep quiet about this “being killed and rising from the dead” thing.
As he and his “entourage” are coming closer to Jerusalem, Mark and Luke that Jesus was walking ahead of them; [the disciples] were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. (Mark 13:32) The disciples are amazed he is doing this because it’s common knowledge that there is a contract out on his life. Everyone is afraid – and you would have been afraid too.
Jesus kept repeating that this was going to be the worst experience ever, and he that would be killed. “But I’m coming back.” In hindsight, we know that he meant what he said. The humiliation and crucifixion was horrific – and he came back. He is back. For some people that’s good news and for others, maybe it’s not so good. For those who know life could and should be different, that’s great news. At the time, I imagine that caused some concern for those who had a role in killing Jesus (although he never appeared to any of them). And today, for those who are keeping God at an arm’s length, who have built a lifestyle around staying away from God, that’s still not such great news. Jesus died, but now he’s back. He’s alive. He isn’t going away.
But, before any cross, or tomb, or resurrection, there’s a rowdy crowd on the path to Jerusalem with a lot of expectations for Jesus. He’s got a huge reputation by now for hard-to-believe, supernatural things – acts of God. When people call him the Messiah, he doesn’t deny it. He is God.
He sent an advance team of disciples ahead to Jerusalem with instructions: “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” Not, “Jesus needs it” – the Lord needs it. Now, this didn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was using some kind of mind control over the owners of the donkey. It likely means that he had set this situation up in advance, and that riding into town on the donkey is intended to be a message. God needs the donkey and it’s going to be a visual aid, an object lesson that Jesus will use to communicate who he is.
For one thing, it’s a sign of humility – the crowd wants him to be a king, like their King Herod (but hopefully nicer). They want him to take political control, but that’s not what Jesus is about. He’s not going to conquer anybody by force. And that is still true. He never forces his way into anybody’s life and he doesn’t want an office at city hall or the state house or Washington.
This riding on a donkey is also a fulfillment of prophecy from the ancient book of Zechariah (9:8).
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
As Jesus rides along, the crowd is shouting scripture at him. It is not a quiet scene. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (vv. 35-38 – Psalm 118). Hosanna! (Lord, save us!) Make Jesus the king. Jesus – he’ll make things right! He’ll take care of these Romans, yeah he will.
We could be in that crowd – that’s what we’re waiting for too. Jesus, straighten out this mess! What a mess! Nothing is the way it should be. We’ve got disagreements here and there, people unhappy about this and that, wars, illnesses, divorces, murders, kids out of control. Jesus! Get off the donkey and do something!
Jesus Does Something. And so, as Jesus comes close to the city, he does do something. Something that probably no one expected. “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)
Jesus weeps. As the parade winds down and everyone goes back to pick up the cloaks they threw in the road, he stops and weeps. He weeps. How would we have experienced that if we were in the crowd? As we head into the city after this “celebration,” he has tears running down his face. He says it’s because people don’t recognize the things that make for peace.
I know that on the way to Lititz, there is a hilltop where you can see the “skyline” of Manheim. As Jesus comes close to our town, what do you suppose he does here? Does he weep?
When you think about Jesus picking up a local paper at one of the restaurants or coffee shops, can you see him weeping over what he reads? Maybe. He might weep over the things that we have the power to do, to change our world into a better place for everyone, and don’t do.
He might weep over the things we do, that are such a waste of time and resources, and don’t help us or anybody. But we take care of ourselves pretty well.
He probably weeps more over the many hundreds of people who travel the roads of our town every day, driving, biking, or walking past this building – whom he would love to know, if only somebody would take the time to make the introduction.
We also have a name. We don’t just have names as individuals. We have a name together. We are St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, and that means something. We are named after St. Paul – look him up sometime when you get the chance. A congregation united in Christ. It’s more than a denomination, it’s a phrase that means access to hope when things seem hopeless. Inner strength when you need it most. Power when you realize how weak you are. He is at the center of the things that make for peace. He gives us the power to do the things that make for peace. What are those things for you?
He doesn’t come into our lives by force. He waits until we realize that we are empty without him, and that with him, life may not get easier, but it can be different. The one who died and rose again waits for the invitation.
That’s how it is with Jesus. Some people are glad when he shows up in their lives. Some people are resentful. That’s how it was when he came to Jerusalem at the beginning of that last week. It was – and is – hard to stay neutral about Jesus. He shows up at the edge of town, at the edge of our lives, and claims to be somebody. But who? Who is he to me? To us?
Everything in the gospels hinge on the things that happen this week. You could say that everything in scripture finds its climax this week, and it’s a roller-coaster ride. Try to put yourself in the crowd, watching as he comes into town. Who is he?
Then and now, he shows up in town at this time of year, attracting all sorts of attention to himself. What does he want from us? What are the things that make for peace for you? With faith in him, they will happen.
Story to be continued this week….
O God, forgive us for being fickle like the crowds in Jerusalem. We praise you one moment and turn our backs on you the next, depending on who we’re with and how the conversation’s going. Forgive us. Take away our fear of being yours and give us strength when trouble comes. Help us remember that you hold the power that overcomes the worst the world can give, and though your Spirit, help us live for you. Amen.