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March 25, 2018

The Things That Make for Peace

 Luke 19: 28-44

I've always thought that the music written for Palm Sunday is some of the most spirited.  Trumpet fanfares, powerful hymns and anthems take us back to this scene of pageantry, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The reenactment we had this morning, with singing, branches waiving,  and cloaks put down the aisle give us a glimpse, a feeling of what it might have been like to be part of the crowd as Jesus rode on his donkey toward the holy city.

 

Yet Luke's account of Jesus' entry is somewhat different than the other three accounts in Matthew, Mark, and John.  In Luke’s version, the noise and excitement comes from Jesus' disciples, whereas in the other accounts it mentions the crowds who had gathered. Now it is likely that the disciples of Jesus included much more than just the original 12; women, and others who began to follow him along the way. Many had witnessed Jesus’ miraculous healing of Lazarus, and so they followed Jesus. These were the ones who shouted proclamations "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" Then they spread their cloaks on the road, and the crowds who had gathered to see what was going on followed suit.

 

Luke, like the account in Matthew, places Jesus' entry point into the holy city as a specific location, the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus would've been able to see all of Jerusalem. This location also links Jesus to the prophecies of the messiah in the book of Zechariah, 14:4-5 that tells of the coming of Messiah. "On that day, his feet will be set on the Mount of Olives."

 

 

 

Luke's account of the triumphant entry differs from the other gospel accounts in that it fails to include any mention of palm branches waiving, no mention of the word “Hosanna,” and no mention of Jesus being linked to King David. Luke adds two new elements to this story as well that are missing from all other accounts of this scene, and one of them in particular is important for us today. The first new story element is the rebuke of the Pharisees, who ask Jesus to quiet the disciples. Verse 39 says, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Jesus replied, “I tell you if they keep quiet, even the very stones will cry out!” It is unlikely that since this is likely their first encounter with Jesus that they had already seen him as a threat to their authority.

 

Why then do they make such a request? Perhaps they were concerned as to how this parade would've sat with Roman authorities. Jewish leaders had worked for years to live within the laws of Roman rule and still maintain some autonomy. This display of Jesus entering as a king might make them lose what little benefits they had. Or perhaps they had hope that this indeed was the Messiah, who would bring about an end to the oppression they suffered under Rome. They may have rather wished he entered quietly and discreetly, without drawing attention. We don't know for sure. Yet Jesus response to the plea was that his followers needed to make such a claim, or else the very stones would cry out. This idea comes from Habakkuk 2:11. Messianic expectations were quite prevalent in those days. Just as we learn of a suffering servant messiah from Isaiah, Habakkuk included the idea, that when Messiah comes “stones in the temple walls will cry out.” The disciples expressed an ultimate truth when they shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in highest heaven and glory in the highest!”(v.38). Opposition to the witness of Christ would not succeed; and the truth would come out; it could not be silenced. The Son of God, the true Messiah had arrived. That the stones would potentially cry out and proclaim this also reminds us that all of God's earth was caught up in this moment. All of creation felt the anticipation of the Son of God and what was yet to come.

 

It is the second different element, however, which is the most striking: Jesus weeps over the city. Why is this element found only in Luke? In 70 A.D., the city of Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman army, and that the temple was destroyed. Luke, which most Biblical scholars date the writing of to the mid 70’s-early 80’s A.D. may have added this scene of Jesus weeping to foreshadow this horrific event. Or perhaps Jesus himself was prophesying of events that would come to pass; that Jerusalem's rejection of Messiah would bring about disaster and ruin later on. Whether this is Jesus prophetic word or a later insertion, of all of the elements in today's story, this one is the most dramatic and most important.

 

Have you ever wept? I don't mean have you ever cried, or felt sad. Have you ever wept, where your very soul feels broken, shattered, your cries come uncontrolled, from the very depths of your being? I have. There is such a profound sadness in weeping, as if your very heart was actually breaking. That is what Jesus felt when he came down the path looking over Jerusalem. He didn’t just shed a tear, or choke up. He wept. Then he said, "If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes." (v.42)If only they had known what would bring them peace- what did Jesus mean by this?

 

After Jesus' death, a succession of others who proclaimed to be Messiah followed. They promised an end to Roman authority over God's people through the use of military force and through a call for protest and uprisings among the Jewish nation. The results of these actions is recounted in verses 43-44 by Jesus’ prophetic words, “Your enemies will build an embankment against you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.”

 

The first century historian Josephus, who was a witness to the siege of Jerusalem described the battle between the Jewish people in revolt, led by Eliazar and Menahem as follows - "Jews stood shoulder to shoulder with their most heavily armed men in front and held their ground magnificently, but when once the line gave they were destroyed wholesale. Death came upon them in every form. Some were taken out into the open, others driven into their houses, which the Romans first looted then burned down. They felt no pity for infants, no respect for the aged; old and young were slaughtered right and left, so that the whole district was deluged with blood and 50,000 corpses heaped up." Such was the fate of those who looked for the military Messiah, who embraced war, hatred, and violence, rather than the things that made for peace.

 

 

Jesus wept over what he knew was to come, because he already knew the people would reject his message of peace, for this was also a message that would challenge the religious authorities and societal norms of the day. He knew they would not understand that this moment was the visitation of God, and so he wept.

Jesus challenged Roman authority - to treat others as you would want to be treated, rather than to be subjugated under Roman law; Jesus challenged Rome to worship God alone, not Caesar.

Jesus challenged the religious leaders of the Jewish community, throwing the money changers and livestock handlers out of the temple, where profit was made off those who came to worship. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath and forgave sins. Jesus challenged the way women and children were treated as property, seen with no standing. - His talking with the woman at the well, rescuing Mary Magdalene from the angry mob, sitting with Mary and Martha, allowing Mary to anoint him with costly perfume.

 

Jesus challenged the way first century society saw children. When the disciples saw people bringing their children to Jesus, they rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.” Jesus cared for the poor, the leper, the unclean, the sinner, those who were outcasts, who were not accepted by society. These were all matters of God’s justice, which is connected to making peace in the world.  Pope Paul VI wrote, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

 

Jesus came to bring about the things that made for peace, but these things would challenge injustice, and would turn society upside down. He was rejected. Were Jesus to come to us today, overlooking our world, what would he weep about?  

  • He would weep at a global economy that spends over 1 Trillion dollars annually on war, weaponry, and defense, led by our own nation by more than a 2-1 margin, which has been at continuous war in two nations since 2001. (Facts from BBC, 2016)If the world spent only a fraction of that, $8 Billion, it would prevent 31,000 children from dying of starvation each and every day.
  • He would weep at a global economic system that allows the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, which allows children to be kept working in deplorable dark factories all in the name of profit.
  • He would weep at this nation's embracement of violence and vengeance - in movies and media, in towns and cities across this nation. He would weep at this country’s proliferation of guns and their easy accessibility, and for those children protesting for their very lives in our streets.
  • He would weep at the racial divide in our nation, in our cities, in our church pews; where there is distrust and intolerance just because of a person's skin color, accent, or origin of birth. Through this story, Christ calls us to care, and to weep over the sinfulness of this world. In our denomination’s Book of Order, the church “ is called to engage in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, injustice, to give of itself to the service of those who suffer, to share with Christ in establishing his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.”

 

 

 

 

Our Messiah comes, and asks us, can we embrace the things that make for peace this day? Can we establish his just peaceable and loving rule in the world?  Can we love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, love our neighbors as we love ourselves, treat the poor with mercy and justice, call for our nation and its leaders to turn to peace and away from war?

We are called as his modern day disciples to turn the world upside down, to challenge societal norms with the words and teachings of the Messiah. The very stones of the earth are crying out for us to do so!  Jesus weeps at the sinfulness of our world. This day, may you welcome him as he comes, not as the mighty warrior king, but as the bearer of God’s justice and peace, humble and riding on a donkey. Without the prince of peace, there is no peace.  Through your acts of charity, love, and justice may you show the things that make for peace, so that weeping might end, and peace might spread throughout the world. Amen.

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