A Tale of Two Journeys
Based on Isaiah 50:4-9, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 11:1-11
It really shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, almost from the moment I was born I was on a journey. What were mom and dad to do? When a local ruler says that all male children your age and younger are to be killed – you pack up quick and head for Egypt (at least in our case). My father’s work of carpentry had us moving around a bit during my years at home – though we mostly stayed around Nazareth. Once I got to be of age, however, I left home and family and wandered around the Levant with a group of friends. Yes, I really have always been on a journey – a journey that would finally and ultimately bring me back to Jerusalem.
The first few years of my “grass roots organizing” (others have called it my ‘public ministry’) were spent gathering a group of men and women from various trades and experiences. This allowed us to find places to gather and entrees into different classes of people than we might otherwise have had. This was especially helpful when the authorities got stirred up from something I said or something I or one of my friends did. You see, we were advocating for change for those who were on the outside of society – the least, last and lost. You know, widows and orphans and lepers and tax collectors, sinners. This made the Temple leadership look bad, because after all, they were tasked by God to take care of these folks – not to make their lot in life any worse.
By the time the third year of organizing was underway, we had developed a pretty good following. Folks turned out by the thousands sometimes at our gatherings – so many turned out a couple of times that it was difficult to find food enough for all of them. Good thing that we know that God can provide in any situation – we have come to depend on that intervention from on high, that’s for sure. Anyway, we were attracting attention not only from the locals, but from the Sadducees and Pharisees, along with the scribes and other local leaders. They tended to get all caught up in their rules and regulations – they tried to cite us for all kinds of broken rules such as healing on the Sabbath and not washing our hands ritually before we ate. None of these small infractions ever really stuck however – and it brought us closer to the people we were trying to attract.
So the leadership sent out some of its most knowledgeable people to try to engage me in a battle of what the Tanakh really said. I mean, they asked me questions from all parts of the sacred writings: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim. They didn’t know that I could see into their hearts and read their intentions based on their questions. Instead of showing the crowds that I was a fake and a phony, they showed themselves to be the ones who didn’t understand the meanings of the prophecies, laws and interpretations. After all, they were trying desperately to keep their power base intact – to show that they alone had the answers for the people. Time and again they would try to trip me up and time and again I would open up a depth and nuance of the sacred writings that they had failed to interpret; or I would show them how they had misapplied the teaching. After a while, even they stopped coming around…but I knew that they were still planning an end to my ministry.
It’s sad really, quite sad indeed. We should not be on opposite sides of the issues of the day. We should be allies and working for the betterment of the people of God. They have forgotten who gave their ancestors the positions of leadership in the first place. Who created them and the teachings that they so often misinterpreted, or interpreted on their own behalf? Who promised them that a Messiah would come to bring release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of Jubilee? It got so bad that I had to begin to insult them in public – to point out with no room for interpretation just exactly what they were doing that was in error. They had been so long wandering in the dark that they could not see what was as plain as day to me. Their hypocrisy just ate at me – because they adorned themselves with riches earned by the back breaking labor and taxes from the poorest souls. They found ways to bring more and more money into the Temple, by crushing those who put their faith in the priesthood and its intercession on their behalf. I was so very angry, that I entered the Temple courtyards one day and kicked out all the merchants and money changers. I just couldn’t take the hypocrisy anymore. This I knew would bring things to a head between the Temple leadership and me.
I let them know that I wouldn’t return to Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!…”, until the people of city yell out, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Luke 13:34, 35b) And so I came back to Jerusalem today as the city filled with good folk here for the Passover celebration. I had planned my entrance into Jerusalem at the exact same time that the Emperor’s Legion was entering the opposite end. There rode Pilate on his war horse with his warriors and the trappings of his rank for all to see. It was a power play on his part to remind the “rabble” of Palestine just who was in charge, in case anyone wanted to test the might of Rome and her army. I decided to ride in on a colt, upon which some cloaks had been thrown. People with me got into the moment and began to cut down branches to throw before me and palms to wave like the Roman banners of Pilate. The crowd around me began to cry out “Hosanna” which means asking for God to deliver them or to save them. Some of them actually had begun to believe that I was the Messiah, the Christ, sent by the LORD to save God’s chosen people. Mistakenly, however, they believed that the Messiah of God would come to overthrow the worldly powers through force and violence. Nothing that I had said or done in my public activity should have given them this idea…yet there were Zealots in my inner group who still held out hope that I was going to accomplish my task in this way.
Pilate and I are set on a collision course, I feel it. I know that the Jewish leadership plots against me, and I know what it is that my Father in heaven has set for me to do. In order for the powers of this world to be overcome, I must give myself over to them freely – no matter what is ultimately in store for me. The Jews have tried to marginalize me and to be rid of me, but none of their tactics have worked. They will have to make a deal with the viciousness of Rome in order to accomplish their goal. I know that one of my closest friends is losing his faith in me as a zealot Messiah. He is struggling to see how my pacifist beliefs can ever conquer such a powerful Empire as Rome. He cannot understand that God’s love is the one power that can never be overcome – can never be stopped. It is a force greater than anything God ever created, and thus it will ultimately win. Unfortunately, there has to be a willing sacrifice in order for this to come into reality.
“A Tale of Two Journeys” is what I have been telling you. My journey towards Jerusalem and my fate at the hands of the Temple leadership, and the journey of those who I have loved and taught in this world as they go on without me. I must diminish so that they can ascend – I must leave so that I can send the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit to fill and guide them. My triumphal entry into Jerusalem today will be forgotten by Friday, my friends will be scattered and shivering in fear, wondering if they will share my fate. Before Friday, however, I will have set in motion all of the things that need to happen for them to continue on their journey – to spread the good news to all who need to hear it across the whole world. My physical journey will end here in Jerusalem, but through my obedience to my Father in heaven, “the Way” will continue to grow and to flourish until the appointed hour when I return to draw all things to me. I wish you well on your journeys. Know that I will see you all again, I promise! With all my love, Jesus