Rev. Danielle K Bartz April 14, 2019
Luke 19:28-40 “Through the Gates”
There is something important that I believe we should not lose sight of: the timeline of Jesus’s life and ministry that we follow every year and celebrate, is knit together from all four gospels. Christmas for instance only appears in two gospels – Mark and John make no mention of a pregnant Mary or visits of angels. Two very familiar parables: the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan, are only recorded in one Gospel. The Lord’s Prayer, that incredibly important prayer said all over the world, indeed so important that I just spent five weeks helping us to consider it deeper, is only mentioned in two of the Gospels.
So, the fact that the scripture we read every year on Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that sets the stage for the drama of Holy Week, that this story appears in all four gospels is, Biblically speaking, a really big deal. While the details of the event differ slightly in each gospel, indeed close listeners for Luke’s version of the story would notice that there are no mention of palms, this is a moment in Jesus’ life and ministry that the writers of all four gospels deemed important enough to include. This is a story, this is a moment, therefore, we must pay close attention to.
Palm Sunday is meant to be a day of celebration in the church. It is the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. It is the day where he entered the seat of power. It is a day when the people celebrated who he was and the message he was bringing. It was a day when the people shouted Hosanna – a cry of praise. Of glory. They laid palms and their cloaks on the road to mark his path and as a sign of devotion. This entry into Jerusalem was a declaration of the people’s faith and hope in the message of Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom of God – which was meant to upend a world in which the authority rested solely with the rich and powerful.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was indeed a celebration and we are right to remember it as such. But, there was another entry into Jerusalem that happened at the same time which is important to not forget. It was Passover, a time for the Jews then and today of great importance. So much importance, in fact, that everyone who could flocked to Jerusalem. The city would swell to millions and, as we know, often when crowds gather, chaos can follow. So, Pontus Pilate, an important figure in the Roman Empire, whose role in the crucifixion we will remember on Friday, would also travel to Jerusalem. He didn’t live there, he likely lived on a grand estate on the Mediterranean coast, but as Governor assigned to control the peoples of Jerusalem, he would show up on Passover to make sure the people never forgot who was really in charge – where the true power laid.
So, imagine this juxtaposition. At one gate enters Pilate with all the typical trappings of power of the time. He likely rode on a war horse, with banners waving and trumpets sounding. Roman soldiers would flock him in columns with weapons, armor, and helmets. It would have been a grand sight, no matter the crowd’s opinion of the Imperial rule they were stuck under.
Then, at a gate on the other side of the city, enters Jesus. Likely dusty and dirty from his weeks of travel. He did not ride in on a large war horse, but rather a lowly donkey. And he was not flocked by columns of soldiers to protect him from whatever powers strived to destroy him. Instead, he entered with a rag-tag group of disciples, equally dirty and dusty. They did not bring with them trunks of riches, in fact they likely only had the clothes are their backs, as they relied on the hospitality of others throughout their ministry. It would not, normally, have been a grand sight. Likely, people would not have even noticed a band of wanderers coming to the city with the droves of people there to celebrate Passover.
But, Jesus had amassed a following of people. People who were eager to hear the Good News he was sharing. The Good News that the power of a few over that of others is not of God. No, Jesus brought the message that God’s favor rests with the poor, the outcast, those whose lives in the margin of society were deemed to be below notice except for their ability to be held down to lift up the rich and powerful. And, along with his message of God’s grace and love, he brought with him the stories of miracles and healings. Of feeding thousands and raising the dead. Of restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again. And, despite his questionable behavior along the way, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, touching the lepers and the unclean, people chose to mark his entry into Jerusalem as that of a king.
Those two entries into the holy city stand in stark contrast to one another. One brought with him the evidence of earthly, human, time-limited power. Pilate brought with him the power to maintaining the status quo – using fear and intimidation, bribery and execution, money and authority – all of that to keep people right where they were. As second class, as less than, as subjects of the Roman Empire, unequal and unworthy of more than derision and ridicule.
Entering in direct opposition to that, comes Jesus. Who brings with him the power that rested simply and solely in God’s all-inclusive, uncompromising, love and grace. Jesus brought with him not a message of the status quo but rather the message that what is shall not always be. Indeed, what is, is not of God but that God’s Kingdom is in fact here now, that if we are willing to look, we cannot help but see.
And at that moment, the people rejoiced. They treated him like a king – the long-promised king of the Jews. The king who they thought would rule, perhaps even with the sword. The king who would take back the power from the Roman Empire, using whatever means necessary. They had chosen to only selectively listen to what Jesus taught, choosing not to pay attention to his teachings about turning swords into plow shares, that as God’s chosen son he was not the earthly king of the Jews, but instead the hands, feet, and voice of God.
But, none of that mattered. He had made it to Jerusalem. And now, everyone thought, things would be different. But Jesus knew the truth. He knew that his message of peace would unnerve people, even the people who needed to hear it the most. He knew that the powers of human fear and hatred were incredibly powerful. He knew what waited for him on the other side of those gates. He had been teaching it all along. Over and over again he reminded his followers that he would not always be with them, he told them, over and over again, that his time with them was short, so they needed to pay attention. Jesus knew what waited for him on the other side of those gates, but he went through them anyway.
He knew the power of Pilate and the Roman Empire, that their system of oppression was the only thing the people understood. Jesus knew that, when faced with the ultimate decision to put trust in God, or to put their trust in wealth and earthly authority, most people would choose what they knew. People would choose the status quo. But he went through the gates anyway.
Jesus knew that the fears of the people, even his most devout followers, would turn their devotion into betrayal and persecution. He knew that his message of God’s love for all of Creation, even those who looked and thought and acted differently, made people too uncomfortable. They wanted God’s favor, but had such a limited understanding of that favor that they worried if it was shared by everyone, there would not be enough. Jesus knew the fears he was trying to change were powerful, but he went through the gates anyway.
Jesus knew what waited for him in Jerusalem. He knew how quickly people could and would turn on him. He understood their doubts, he had been speaking to them all along. He knew his message was so contrary to the way the world functioned that people would doubt it was possible so much that they would decide to hate the message, and the one who brought it. Jesus undoubtedly remembered that the first time he tried to bring this message the people of his own hometown, a close-knit community who watched him grow and nurtured him as a child, tried to throw him off a cliff. Jesus knew what waited for him, but he went through the gates anyway.
Why? Because it was finished yet. His message wasn’t finished. His ministry wasn’t finished. His purpose wasn’t finished. He preached an upending of the Roman Empire and the coming of God’s Kingdom. But those words meant nothing if he did not preach them in the midst of that power. He had been bringing this message directly to the poor. Directly to the people who had been trampled on and left behind. But, now he needed to bring that message to the people who established that power, who used it for their own direct benefit. He was bringing his message of peace and justice directly to those who needed to hear it the most, and who had the most to lose. And when he didn’t act like the people wanted him too, act like the authority they had grown to understand, taking from one to give to the other, their cries of Hosanna turned to cries for crucifixion. But he went through the gates anyway.
We all approach gates, moments, decisions. We all approach a time when we must decide to speak up and reach out. To say justice in the face of persecution, to say love in the face of hate, to stand for God, no matter the consequences. And these gates in our lives, these moments of choice – they come all of the time. Because we are faced with persecution, discrimination, hate, fear, prejudice, and empire – every day. And, sometimes, we know, that when we speak up and carry our message of love and grace to the face of power, the crowds will turn. Even if they are originally cheering us on, if we continue to be uncompromising in our message, our message of God’s Kingdom here amongst us, we know sometimes their cheers will turn and they will seek to silence that message which upends everything. But, we are to go through the gates anyway.
There is a reason this story appears in all four gospels – because it is a crucial moment in the ministry of Jesus. It was the culmination, the moment of completion, the moment of bravery and conviction that the message of God’s Kingdom needs to be heard by everyone. It was not only a moment to help Jesus’ followers understand how his power was the exact opposite of the worldly power wrapped around Pilate, but it was a moment of the fulfillment of a promise. The promise that Jesus would not compromise, not hold back, and trust in the ultimate power of God’s yes to the world’s no.
On this Palm Sunday, let us the consider the gates we have to go through. Let us consider the ones we are still standing on the threshold of, fearful of what might lie on the other side. Let us consider our own gates to what is next and, just as the greatest teacher of our faith did, trust that God will always say yes, even when the world says no. Amen.
Loving God, today we join with many millions of other Christians worldwide to sing the praises of Jesus as he enters Jerusalem in a triumphant processional. We echo the hosannas of his first followers, we proclaim him as king, we hail him as our redeemer. Help us to remain steadfast through the end of the story, our own personal stories and the final story of Jesus. Move us through this Holy Week with renewed understanding and hope. Grant to us, even in the midst of tragic adversity and death, a trust which reaches beyond our deepest despair to the loftiest faith. May we, who like the original disciples abandoned Jesus and fled, in the end recover our courage and conviction, and emerge, as did they, stronger and wiser and infinitely more deepened in faith than could otherwise have been the case. We pray for all who enter this Holy Week with heavy burdens: the mentally or emotionally or financially stressed; the assaulted in body or spirit, who feel ill-equipped to experience the solemnity of these days or the inexpressible joy which shall sweep over us next Sunday; the broken of heart or spirit who question whether they shall ever again fully feel the joy of either Palm Sunday or Easter; the stressed of faith who wonder whether they are capable of ever knowing again what these days truly mean. We pray, O God, that for all of us Holy Week may be above all else holy, and that Easter again may really be Easter. We ask it in the name of him who comes to the holy city as peaceful guide and leader, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Now as Jesus taught, we join together in prayer, saying, Our Father….