(Luke 19: 28-40)
Back when I was with the Houston Police Department, I belonged to the Houston Police Patrolman’s Union. It was a spinoff of the Houston Police Officer’s Association which had been around for years. Us younger officers didn’t feel that the Officer’s Association was serving our needs. It was pretty much a fraternal organization that seemed more interested in playing softball. The Patrolman’s Union was more interested, if you will, in playing hardball. You see, the newly elected mayor wasn’t very sympathetic to the police department. We were understaffed, underpaid and didn’t have the equipment or cars necessary to effectively do our jobs. The Union leadership was pretty hostile to the mayor and our chief was brought in from out-of-state which irritated the rank and file. Rather than antagonize those in authority, I felt it might be best to try and work with them, so I ran for Union President and overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent, the founder of the union. The members were tired of the infighting and my message of reconciliation seemed to resonate. Unfortunately, the deposed leadership did not go quietly into that good night and plotted against me hoping I would make a mistake that would turn the members against me.
We had called for a peaceful rally not far from City Hall to call attention to our plight and garner sympathy from the public. I spoke before a huge crowd and laid out my strategy for working with the city administration and that later that morning I would be addressing city council on their behalf. All seemed to be going well until one of the zealots grabbed the bullhorn and urged the crowd to march on City Hall. The plan was for me to go with a small contingent and not an angry mob. One of my board members advised me that the night shift from a certain station had been drinking since they had gotten off and were growing angry as there were some agitators in the crowd. When we got to City Hall the crowd had grown hostile, much to the delight of the news media and the mayor who was watching from her office window. I told the members I was going in to speak and I’d let them know how it went. Unfortunately, that same zealot loudly suggested that we all go in. We filled council chambers. The mayor was urged by council to let me speak first so the room would clear but she refused, and the crowd grew more restless. Tensions and emotions were running hot and high. I knew that if I gave an emotionally charged speech to the mayor and council the place would explode, and all hell would break loose as some members were beginning to taunt the mayor. So, I gave a less-than-impassioned speech that more-or-less threw a wet blanket on the smoldering fire. So much for riding high. It was the beginning of the end of my presidency. A city councilman would later confide in me that he appreciated what I did because he did not see it ending well if I said what I had come to say. The opposition smelled blood in the water and my days were numbered. Another board member threw me a sack of thirty dimes, i.e., thirty pieces of silver. Nice.
And that’s were we find Jesus in our scripture reading for this morning, riding high. As we know from last week’s lesson, Jesus had been staying at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus teaching and preaching. It was now time to go to Jerusalem for his date with destiny. When he got to the Mount of Olives he told two of his disciples to go on ahead to a village where they would find a colt that had never been ridden. He tells them to untie it and bring it to him. He says that if anyone asks him why they are taking the colt to just say this, “The Lord needs it.” So, they did as they were told and, sure enough, they were questioned as they were untying the colt. As instructed they responded, “The Lord needs it.” I’ve often wondered about this scenario, as who would allow a couple of strangers to walk off with a valuable animal just because some guy, “the Lord”, needs it? My study Bible points out that, by this time, Jesus was fairly well known. He had been teaching, preaching and performing miracles all around the area so his following had grown appreciably. He was the talk of the town. Everyone coming to Jerusalem for the Passover feast had heard of him, and, for a time, the popular mood was favorable to him. Because of this, “The Lord needs it” was all the disciples had to say and the colt’s owner gladly turned the animal over to them.
They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks on its back and set Jesus upon it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was 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, saying, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven! This must have been quite a sight. As word spread that Jesus was making his much-anticipated entry into Jerusalem, for what they anticipated to be a showdown with the powers that be, people gathered, lining the road, praising God, waving palm branches, and laying their cloaks down in front of the colt as it passed before them.
“Long live the king” was the meaning behind their joyful shouts, because they knew Jesus was intentionally fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9: 9; See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This is a pretty bold move as the Pharisees and keepers of the law would have gotten the not-so-subtle message he was sending the people. To announce that he was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered at Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see him, and a way of proclaiming his mission that was unmistakable. The people went wild. They were sure their liberation was at hand.
The people who were praising God for giving them a king had the wrong idea about Jesus. They expected him to be a national leader, like King David, who would restore their nation to its former glory. They were expecting a great warrior-king who would raise an army and forcefully expel the hated Romans, their cruel oppressors. They were deaf to the words of their prophets and blind to Jesus’ real mission. His message and mission were one of evolution, not revolution. Evolution takes too long. A revolution gets immediate results. Can you really blame them? When you’ve been oppressed for so long, all you want is relief. You want the boot off your neck and it can’t come fast enough. When it became apparent that Jesus was not going to fulfill their hopes, many would turn against him. That may be why tough-talking, law and order politicians get elected. They promise immediate action against the “other”. Just think what would have happened if Jesus called them to arms, had he fanned the flames of the smoldering fire. A lot of people would have gotten hurt. This possibility is what scares the power structure. The people get organized, rise up and bad things happen such as a loss of status quo, power, authority and privilege.
As the people became more and more excited, some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, Teacher, order your disciples to stop. He answered, I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out. The Pharisees thought the crowd’s words were sacrilegious and blasphemous. They didn’t want someone challenging their power and authority. They especially didn’t want a revolt that would bring the Roman army down on them. So they asked Jesus to keep his people quiet. His response was one that conveyed the message that there was nothing they could do to stop what was about to happen. The wheels had been set in motion, the movement was going forward and there was nothing humanly possible they could do to stop it. They thought Jesus was trying to set up some sort of powerful political kingdom of which they would not be a part. But they were wrong. He was establishing God’s eternal kingdom, a reason for the greatest celebration of all.
We, as Followers of the Way, are called to ride high with Jesus and celebrate his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the City of God, as he sets in motion a movement that will change the world. A movement designed to bring justice for the poor and mercy to the abused and oppressed. A movement designed to bring peace on earth and equality to all in the eyes of God. Though it ended badly in human terms, we celebrate at the great sacrifice made for us by the Prince of Peace who helps us evolve into his disciples for the transformation of the world.
Please pray with me.
What a great story. The stories of Jesus, ones we love to hear. Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, stories of how children stood around his knee, receiving his blessing, hearing his words full of kindness, witnessing deeds full of grace, all in the love light of his face. Oh, how we wish we could have been there with the children waving their palm branches high, where we would have joined in singing loudest hosannas, “Jesus is King!” In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.