Luke 19:28-40.28 After Jesus said this, he went on in front of them toward Jerusalem. 29 As he came near Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead 30 with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you; as you go in, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If someone asks you why you are untying it, tell him that the Master[a]needs it.”
32 They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?”
34 “The Master needs it,” they answered, 35 and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. 36 As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen: 38 “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!”
39 Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “command your disciples to be quiet!”
40 Jesus answered, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting.”
41 He came closer to the city, and when he saw it, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you only knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it! 43 The time will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades, blockade you, and close in on you from every side. 44 They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls; not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you did not recognize the time when God came to save you!”
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 one of the most unlikely people – a big, burly, barroom brawler, an oilfield worker, the most unlikely person to be cast as Jesus. After some 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 small guy, filling in as a part of the crowd, got caught up in the emotion of the moment. Probably a method actor immersing himself in the role. As Jesus was led through the crowd, this guy was loud in the chorus: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And then, as he was shouting insults at the top of his lungs, he accidentally sprayed some spit in the face of the Jesus as he walked by carrying the cross on his back. So, this big oilfield worker stopped for a moment, reached up and wiped his face dry. And then he looked down and said: “I’ll be back to take care of you after the resurrection.” -Barry Boulware, via Robert Allen, via Norman Neaves. Homiletics (March/April, 1992)
Sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, right? Not exactly a Jesus image, maybe because he was playing a robot when he said that. But resurrection is a thing in movies. Keanu Reaves does it in The Matrix, Superman did it in the last couple of “Justice League” movies. Some people say they are Jesus figures. But I’m still not sure that those characters match up with Jesus very well.
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.
As he and his “entourage” are coming closer to Jerusalem, the Gospel of Mark says 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. There’s about to be a murder, and it’s not a mystery.
If you follow what he had been doing and saying up to this point in the gospel story, that was pretty close to what he’d been saying all along: Yeah, they’re going to kill me. He keeps repeating it. He isn’t disagreeing with the rumor. At the time, his own people thought it was pretty crazy. He keeps saying this thing about being killed… and rising from the dead.
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.
Jesus kept repeating that this was going to be a horrific experience, and he would be killed. And he also says… I’m coming back. What? We look back now and know that he meant what he said. The humiliation and crucifixion were 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. For those who are keeping God at an arm’s length, who have built a lifestyle around staying away from God, maybe that’s not such great news. Jesus died, but now he’s back. He’s alive. He isn’t going away. Maybe we can just ignore him!
But, before any cross or tomb, or resurrection, there’s a rowdy crowd at the city gate 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 at the state house or in 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 disagreements here and there, people unhappy about this and that, illnesses, divorces, murders, kids out of control. And Just a little political stuff. Jesus! Get off the donkey and do 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. He says it’s because people don’t recognize the things that make for peace, the things that make for their own well-being. When was the last time you saw a public leader look at a city – or look out at a political rally – and weep for peace? And I believe he’s weeping for the sacrifice he knows he’s about to make, to help us all have peace when we have faith in him.
Here’s a little bit of a challenge: As Jesus comes close to our town, close to Wellington, what do you suppose he does here? Does he weep? Maybe he needs to get to know the place first.
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.
He might weep 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 or work on a relationship. Surveys show that most people now don’t have a relationship with a church, you know, followers of Christ.
Who are we? We are the First Congregational United Church of… Christ, and that means something. 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 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 help us live for you. Amen.