Saturday, March 27, 2010

Red Carpet Treatment

Luke 19: 28-40

Today’s Processional Gospel begins with, “After he had said this, ….” It’s often helpful to look back to see what Jesus had just said or done. In this case, Jesus had just told a parable. A nobleman gave one pound, five pounds, and ten pounds to three different slaves. The slaves with five and ten pounds invested the money and got a nice return on it. The slave with one pound put it away for safe keeping. When the nobleman returned, an audience gathered to see what would happen. He was pleased with the return on investment by the two slaves, and angry with the slave who had hidden the original pound away and not at least put it into the bank to earn interest. The nobleman then says, “To all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.
Rarely is Jesus so blunt, but at this point he’s on his way to the temple in Jerusalem. He knows some will accept him, but others will reject him. It’s clear that those who reject him are like the slave in the parable who gave no return on investment. Since they have taken such poor care of what was given to them, they don’t deserve to have even that little.
Surely, we can read this as pointing to the Scribes and Pharisees, and anyone else who will reject Jesus, refusing to see him even as God’s messenger, if not as God’s son. In particular, the leadership is at fault for placing so much focus on the purity of religious ritual, and so much less on the purity of the heart turned to God with love and trust.
So, now, on to today’s text. Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, coming from the east. They will pass through Bethany and Bethpage, where they will get a colt for Jesus to ride. They throw some cloaks on the back of the colt, and Jesus then sits on it. They then head down the hill, through or past the Mount of Olives. The disciples and others in the crowd throw their cloaks on the ground, as a sort of red carpet, for a royal procession. As they walk, the crowd of supporters sings songs of praise for their king who comes in the name of the Lord.
As they near the bottom of the hill, or perhaps as they begin the ascent of the hill into Jerusalem, some Pharisees try to stop them, or at least silence them. With the Roman army on the lookout for any bit of trouble, it could be that the Pharisees simply want to make sure they are doing their part in keeping the peace.
Or, it could be they want to silence any claims that Jesus is the king of the Jews, sent by God to challenge the status quo. This, of course, would threaten them and their way of life and worship. Instead of obeying the Pharisees, Jesus says that they can’t be silenced, and if they were, even the stones would cry out.
By now, Jesus and the crowd are near the crest of the hill, high enough that they can see the buildings of the city, and the temple towering over it. So, contrary to our usual impression, as Luke tells the story, this parade occurs not at the entrance to the city, but long before it. You may also have noticed that there is no mention of palms on the ground or waved in the air, but only cloaks on the ground.
Reading on in Luke, Jesus then enters the temple and drives out, not the money changers, but the vendors. Diane, Mike, and I know all about those vendors. They were everywhere, and quite persistent on our tour – I’m sure it was no different in Jesus’ time. There would have been the animals intended for sacrifice. Perhaps there were also lots of souvenirs – items made for sale to those folks who rarely made the trip to Jerusalem because they lived too far away or were too poor or someone else’s slave with no freedom to travel.
When Jesus drives out the vendors, he has really done it. He has hit the pockets of the vendors, who depend on the sales to tourists to make a living – and who probably pay fees to have permits to set up a stall in the temple area. And, therefore, he has hit the pockets of the Pharisees and the guardians of the temple.
From this time on, the leaders actively look for a way to kill Jesus. Day after day, Jesus ratchets up the tension, until at last the leaders can’t stand it any more. They arrest him and turn him over to the Romans to get rid of him. They say it’s for the sake of averting a revolt, which would make things really messy for Rome as well as the Jewish people.

At the end of worship today, we’ll hear Chapter 23, the story of the Passion. But, that skips so much of the story, which continues all week. Your challenge for this week is very specific. I suggest you read the last few chapters of Luke this week, some of it every day. As you read, pay attention and ask yourself some questions.
How does Jesus reach out to you as you read the stories?
Who is Jesus in your life?
What does it mean that he gave his life as a gift of love to you?
What is Jesus calling you to do with that gift?

Please pray with me. Jesus, it’s so hard for us to imagine your life and death. How, we wonder, were you able to go through with God’s plan? Yet, you willingly gave your life for us, so we would know the depth of divine love for us. Be with us this week, and keep us mindful of your sacrifice, even though we’d much rather think about the good news of your resurrection. Amen