Thought for the week - 10 April
Throughout this liturgical year, in Luke’s gospel, we have been hearing Jesus say, "I must go up to Jerusalem." The opening words of today’s gospel of procession announce that, "Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem." Today we hear of the final part of his journey to the holy city. He is riding a colt and greeted by "the whole multitude of his disciples" who praise God, "for all the mighty deeds they have seen." This is a climatic moment for Jesus and his disciples. Their journey to Jerusalem is ending and another is about to begin--- the excited disciples have no clue what is about to happen. We have arrived at a climatic moment. With Jesus and his disciples we are entering Holy Week.
Jesus enters the city from the East, from the same direction as the rising sun. A new day is beginning. Old ways are being put aside. Darkness is overcome. On this new day, death is no longer the end of life; success is no
longer the valid measure of a person or any of our personal projects; power no longer has complete and lasting control over a people; violence no longer is the way to deal with opposition. Today a new day is beginning; today Jesus enters Jerusalem. Today speaks clearly to us: have no doubts, God is not indifferent to human plight; human suffering has not fallen on deaf ears. God has heard our cry for help. Today, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem.
In Jesus’ time, going to Jerusalem was an important and joyful event. Devout Jews went to the city to observe important feasts and rituals. Jerusalem had great symbolic power for believers, for the Temple was in Jerusalem and it was in and around the Temple that important ceremonies were performed. But the Romans were there too and so the city was a place of convergence, not only of religious power and authority, but also of social, military and economic forces. For many reasons, Jerusalem was the centre of the Jewish world. So, Jesus goes to the place where religious and secular powers are concentrated and he goes there at an important festival time, the feast of Passover.
Jesus and his disciples knew how dangerous this fateful journey would be. Neither the religious nor the military powers in the city could ignore Jesus’ presence. There were many diverse opinions and movements in Jewish tradition, but Jesus’ teachings about God’s reign had gone too far for most of the religious establishment. And in going to a seat of Roman power, Jesus was confronting the world’s might in all its oppressive and cruel manifestations. Once Jesus enters Jerusalem the powers in charge move quickly, he is promptly captured, sentenced and nailed to the cross.
Why go up to Jerusalem at all? Why not "lay low" and stay out of trouble? Or, continue preaching—but from a safe distance. By his entering Jerusalem Jesus challenges our attitude to all kinds of power—our "modern Jerusalems,"--- our misplaced respect for: powerful government; religious status; middle class values; physical and intellectual achievement; economic success, and so on. Jesus enters Jerusalem and he challenges each of us to confront our contemporary Jerusalems. Where do we bow to power; who and what rule our lives?
Jesus confronts all that Jerusalem represents and he seems to lose to the reigning power. He submits, doesn’t fight, or hide or try to outwit the powers. He chooses to be there, in Jerusalem, exposed to all the forces against him. It looked like Jesus was a loser; God seemed to have gambled and lost.
But Jesus’ submission really was a confrontation with evil: he did not run away, his suffering was God’s way of working through him. Through Jesus’ loss, we are all winners.
Each of us believers must join Jesus and go "up to Jerusalem." Like Jesus, our personal Jerusalem may be a place where we seem to be losers: where our faith is disregarded or even opposed. We are called to be aware of our own experience of Jerusalem and there we are invited to take up the cross and risk what previously we have cherished and clung to. But first, before we straighten our shoulders and prepare for the struggle we must let Jesus go ahead of us. We follow him into the city this week; watch how he surrenders to God’s ways and identify with his loss. But, through his death and resurrection we also experience new life.
Why we wave our palms for today? Not because everything goes well in our world; not because there is no suffering—not while there are ongoing wars, civil strife,
AIDS throughout the world, terrorism, drugs and on and on! We are not waving our palms in ecstatic religious display with our eyes closed to reality. No, there is too much suffering in the world for that; the good, the poor and the vulnerable are not spared suffering. Jesus reminds us of that today. Rather, God has entered our "holy city" —the places of defeats and pain and transformed them. God has personally confronted evil, walked the same path we have. But not in the triumphal way we might have, instead God has contradicted our usual ways of dealing with evil and chosen instead the cross—as Paul says, a way that our world judges as foolishness and a scandal.
Because Jesus chose to enter the Holy City, every place we suffer can become a holy city for us, a place God chooses to visit and share with us—most especially those places where, like Jesus, we choose to confront religious hypocrisy and worldly powers.
We know what the excited crowds at the entrance to the city don’t know. At this point they smell triumph in the air, they expect a victorious Jesus to sweep into power and they with him. In Jerusalem their plans would collapse, their hopes would be dashed. We know what they didn’t and couldn’t know at this stage of their journey with Jesus: that early on the morning of the third day, the first day of the week, while it was still dark, God would show God’s power and raise Jesus from the tomb. The powers of death would be overcome. Triumph would come from catastrophe; life from death; hope from despair and despite all appearances to the contrary–then and now---evil would be defeated.
Now, no matter how powerful the forces against good are, we do have reason to hope. That is why we wave our palms in the air. That is why, with Jesus and the rest of his disciples, we are entering Jerusalem today.