March 19, 2016 by jmar198013
The manuscript for my sermon for this coming Sunday. March 20, 2016. Palm Sunday, Year C.
The scriptures for this week are:
An audio link is also embedded below for those who would rather listen.
A KING’S PARADE
It’s just soaked with significance, Luke’s story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Right on the edge of the Passover.
Oozing. Dripping. Overflowing with overtones.
I don’t even quite know where to begin, so I’ll just begin here.
As he came riding into the city on the back of a donkey’s colt—a borrowed colt that, Jesus explained, no one has ever ridden—his disciples threw their clothes on the road ahead of him. The tradition of celebrating a new king by throwing your clothes on the path before him went back to the days of Elisha. It first appears in 2 Kings 9.13.
Actually, it should raise our eyebrows to know that the disciples were following the script of 2 Kings 9. There, the people threw down their garments for the newly anointed King Jehu. He had come to liberate Israel from the heirs of Ahab and Jezebel. And boy, did he ever. It was a total bloodbath. Anyone remotely connected to the regime, and everyone who worshiped the false god Baal, was exterminated. Then he smashed the Baal altars and tore down the Baal temple. It’s been a public toilet ever since (MSG). That’s the final word on those Baal temples, according to 2 Kings 10.27.
I wonder—did some of the disciples figure that Jesus was going to ride into Jerusalem and do the same to Herod and Pilate and the chief priests? Pulverize them all to smithereens, and turn their palaces into public toilets?
I can only imagine they did, because they started singing: Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
They were singing a line from one of the Psalms. We heard it in our Psalm reading today. Psalm 118.26 says: The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed. But did you notice they changed a word? They didn’t sing, Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord. They sang, Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
And they had good reasons to sing it this way. He was fulfilling prophecy. Okay, maybe he was leaning into the prophecy a bit. After all, he had orchestrated this whole donkey ride into the city himself.
It was all written in the scroll of Zechariah. How the Messiah would storm Jerusalem. Zechariah 9.9 proclaims:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion.
Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem.
Look, your king will come to you.
He is righteous and victorious.
He is humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.
Jesus was doing his part to fulfill the prophecy by riding into town on a donkey colt. They were doing their part by rejoicing and singing about it.
Not only that, but Jesus’ parade route had begun at the Mount of Olives. Again, just like Zechariah said it would happen: On that day he will stand upon the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem (Zech. 14.4).
They had every reason to hope that Jesus would come to Jerusalem and become their king—just like Zechariah had said. They had every reason to imagine that he would lay waste to Rome and Herod and the corrupt priests, and liberate them. Just like Jehu did.
After all, these disciples weren’t basing their hope on hazy dreams. They had proof. Luke says that they praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen.
They had seen Jesus destroy oppressors like leprosy and epilepsy and demons; and even that most evil of tyrants, shame.
They had seen Jesus liberate people from diseases and disabilities and disfigurements and demons. And sin and shame. And hunger. And grief. And loneliness. And fear.
They had seen it. He’d even done these things for them, personally.
Surely those were just dry runs for the big showdown, right? When he would topple the tyrants in Jerusalem. Liberate the holy city. And take his throne as a new and incorruptible David. And his reign would never end.
And so they sang out loud, they shouted, they rejoiced—they weren’t shy about it at all: Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
THE OTHER PARADE
Not everyone there that day was singing aloud and rejoicing greatly, however.
The Pharisees were freaked out.
Teacher, scold your disciples!, they snapped. Tell them to stop!, they barked.
It’s tempting to assume that the Pharisees were just raining on the parade. That’s what they always did, right?
Oh, but the Pharisees had solid reasons to be afraid. Truth be told, I’ll admit I might have been right there with them. Whining at Jesus: Tell them to stop!
See, Jesus and his disciples were coming in from the Mount of Olives. Through the eastern gate of the city. But another sort of parade was coming in from the other side of town. Probably around the same time. The Roman governor Pilate would have been riding into Jerusalem from the western gate, with a battalion or two of Roman forces with him.
The Roman governor and his security forces were prominent fixtures in Jerusalem during the Passover. They’d have been stupid not to be there.
Officially, they were there for the peace and protection of the worshipers. Every year, hundreds of thousands of worshipers swarmed into Jerusalem for the Passover, from every corner of the known world. It was the festival that every faithful Jew had to attend.
It was difficult to ensure safety and security in such conditions. Every so often, something would pop off that would cause a near riot. Like one time, when Jesus was a boy, some Samaritans snuck into the temple the night before the Passover and hid rotting corpses in its nooks and crannies. Of course, that action defiled the temple. So, understandably, Samaritans were no longer invited to Jerusalem for Passover. And—you guessed it—new security measures were put in place. And Rome probably minted three or four new government agencies in the name of Passover security. 
Anyway, that’s the official reason Pilate led a couple of battalions of Roman troops into Jerusalem at Passover. Rome is protecting you from those Samaritan terrorists. But the real reason they came—and came riding in with such pomp and pageantry—was to remind everyone in Jerusalem who was really in charge. It was shock and awe. Peace through strength.
After all, Passover was the Jewish holiday that celebrated the time their God had liberated them from another empire—Egypt. How God’s people had humiliated the Pharaoh—the Egyptian emperor. How they had dumped the bosses off their backs. How they had plundered the Egyptians. How they had led the Egyptian army into a trap, so that they were drowned in the Red Sea. Now here they were, suffering under the Roman empire. And some years, a million or more Jewish people overwhelmed Jerusalem—a city that took up less than a square mile of space.  With all the anti-imperial, our-God-can-whoop-your-army sentiment running high during the Passover, sometimes people got funny ideas. You know what I mean?
And Pilate’s job was to make sure nobody tried to act on any of those funny ideas. And if they did, to squash them like bugs before anybody else got in on the act. 
And that’s why Pilate was riding into Jerusalem’s western gate, flanked by thousands of Rome’s best and brightest men. At the same time Jesus was riding into the city by the eastern gate, flanked by a ragtag group of chanting disciples.
Surely when Pilate led Rome’s security forces into town, there were war horses. And chariots. There was order and dignity. And surely each one of the soldiers prominently displayed some lethal weapon. Glinting in the sunlight for maximum effect, of course.
And the message Rome and Pilate were communicating was clear: Your God failed you. We won. Remember your better days all you want. But don’t get any big ideas in your head. We’re in charge here!
Of course, Jesus knew full well about the other parade going on across town. Pilate’s parade. Rome’s parade. He orchestrated his little parade to coincide with it on purpose. It was a counter-processional. This is what a king who comes in peace looks like. Riding on a donkey’s colt. Not a war animal. A farm animal. How else would a king who preached beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks approach?
But the Pharisees knew that Pilate and Rome would never see it that way.
And they knew that Jerusalem was a small city. And that sound traveled, echoing off the hills.
And they knew that if Pilate and his army overheard a crowd of rowdy Galileans singing and shouting about any king other than Caesar, there’d be a bloodbath to soak the city. And not the goats’ blood that bathed every Jewish doorway during the Passover. The blood of many mothers’ sons, firstborn or otherwise.
Jerusalem would be baptized in blood.
And the Pharisees weren’t entirely certain God would intervene this time. He’d been mighty quiet for a good long while.
And so the Pharisees ordered Jesus: Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop! And like I said, I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t have been right there with them.
But Jesus would have none of it. No wet blanket Pharisees were going to rain on his parade. I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout, is what he said.
Sounds like crazy talk, doesn’t it?
But the second chapter of Habakkuk says: A stone will cry out from a village wall, and a tree branch will respond . . . The land will be full of the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, just as water covers the sea (Hab. 2.11, 14).
And Psalm 96.12 says: All the trees of the forest . . . will shout out joyfully before the Lord because he is coming!
And don’t forget Psalm 98.8-9: Let all the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether before the Lord because he is coming to establish justice on the earth!
In other words, what Jesus was saying is this: The creation knows her king and her master. And it’s the guy riding through the back gate on the donkey. Not the guy riding through the front gate on the war horse.
CHOOSE YOUR PARADE
So what we have is an incredible contrast. Two parades, going on in opposite sides of the same city, at about the same time.
And those two parades tell two very different stories about two very different kings and their kingdoms.
The parade Pilate is leading on the western side of Jerusalem says Caesar is the Son of God. The Savior. And Caesar proves he is God by flexing his muscles. Caesar cuts down and pulverizes anything and anyone who gets in his way. And Caesar calls this peace. Pilate rides into town, leading a long column of Caesar’s peacekeepers through Jerusalem. To enforce the rules. To uphold the status quo. To intimidate. To remind everyone who’s really boss.
Luke didn’t even write about that parade. That parade was business as usual. No one in the Roman Empire needed Luke to tell them about that parade. It was just everyday ordinary background noise.
Meanwhile, Jesus is leading his own parade on the eastern side of town. And this is the parade Luke wants us to know about. Luke wants us to know that the real Son of God—the real Savior; the real Prince of Peace—rode into town on a borrowed donkey colt. The real king, Jesus, leads a band of rowdy peasants. Rowdy, but full of joy! Full of zest! They’re a mess. They’re living day-to-day. Paycheck to paycheck. And sometimes without a paycheck. The troops Jesus leads are always living right on the edge. Their existence is precarious to say the least. No one is going to be intimidated by this army. And right now, they’re breaking into a song: Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord, they’re singing. Probably off-key. Probably losing the melody every once in awhile. But they keep on singing. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.
We have already seen how Jesus’ bootleg Passover parade was inspired by Zechariah 9.9: Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey. But you really need to read the next verse to get what Jesus’ parade was all about. I doubt his disciples—who welcomed him like the old conqueror King Jehu—had read the next verse. Zech. 9.10 says: He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem. The bow used in battle will be cut off; he will speak peace to the nations. His rule will stretch from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.
Jesus—the king who comes in the name of the Lord—has come to show us all what peace looks like. How a peaceable kingdom lives. He has come to give us a completely new concept of victory.
And it looks nothing like Caesar’s kingdom—the one Pilate’s parade represents. It isn’t shock and awe. It isn’t peace through strength.
No. The Galilean carpenter leading a parade of off-key, misfit, confused disciples into town—riding in on a borrowed donkey—proclaims that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, as Paul would say in 2 Cor. 12.9.
The Pharisees saw Jesus’ parade, and they panicked. Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!, they hissed. They didn’t believe that God’s power can be made perfect in weakness. They believed the lies Pilate’s parade told about peace and victory. Even if they hated it. They had decided that’s just how things are, and you have to go along with it if you’re going to survive.
Have you ever gone along with something you hate, something that’s hurting you and your neighbors, because you thought it was the only way to make it in the world? What about now? Anybody out there playing it safe because you think that’s the only way to survive?
But Jesus knows a better story than survival. The story Jesus tells is resurrection.
But we still have a week to go before we get to resurrection. That’s next Sunday.
This Sunday, though, we have two parades going on.
One parade is a never-ending column of men marching in line. Their uniforms are dazzling, their weapons are ready. They are here to enforce the rules. They are here to make sure no one steps out of line. And they may well turn their weapons on you if you make a wrong move. And they will call it peace. What they call peace turns out to be order achieved through intimidation. What they call peace is really just making sure things keep happening the way they’re already happening.
This parade is snazzy. It’s shiny. It’s well-choreographed. But it’s also diabolically boring.
The other parade is led by a man riding a donkey. He knows that peace can sometimes be a messy process. He is well aware that swords don’t beat themselves into plowshares—it takes work. And time. And so much grace. He is intimately acquainted with human weakness. With your weakness and mine. But he welcomes us with our weaknesses, because he knows that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Those in his parade aren’t following him in a perfect column. They are in clusters all around him. They are a long ways from having it all together. Their lives are a far cry from what our world would call peaceful. They are certainly not poster children for victory. Some of them look like they’re just barely holding on. Some of them would admit that they never had a good day in their life until they met King Jesus, the guy on the donkey. Some of them will even be honest enough to tell you that they’re not sure where Jesus is leading them. Or if they will like it once they get there. But they’ll follow him anywhere. And they warble hymns to him. Sometimes they butcher the words. Sometimes their voices break. Some of them couldn’t carry a tune in a paper sack. But they keep singing out loud. They find a way to rejoice. And if you listen real close, you might just hear the gravels beneath their feet singing harmony.
Our Gospel reading today says we must choose which of those two parades we’re going to be in. We can’t be in both, because they’re on opposite sides of town.
Well, I don’t know about you. But I’m jumping in the guy on the donkey’s parade.
 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Section 29. Accessed March 17, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0146:book=18:section=29.
 Think that’s impossible? You could technically fit all 320 million inhabitants of the United States into a space of 3.5 square miles. See: Swanson, Ana. “If All the World’s People Squished Together, How Much Room Would They Take Up?” Know More. April 1, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2016. http://knowmore.washingtonpost.com/2015/04/01/if-all-the-worlds-people-squished-together-how-much-room-would-they-take-up/.
 For example, see: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Section 105. Accessed March 17, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0146:book=20:section=105.