Stones that Speak Luke19:28-44 4-14-19
On the first “Palm Sunday,” at the very same time that Jesus was humbly processing into the city of Jerusalem on a young colt, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was entering the city by the gate at the other end of town. It was the custom for the Roman rulers to come to Jerusalem at the time of Jewish festivals, mostly to keep the peace. You can imagine how nervous they might get about Passover, as the Jewish people remembered their ancestors escaping from the oppressive control of their powerful Egyptian overlords.
You know the kind of peace Pontius Pilate was coming to enforce, of course—the Pax Romana—the kind of peace kept with weapons and armor, war horses and foot soldiers. Pilate’s parade featured golden eagles mounted on poles, bright banners, scores of troops. You can almost hear the marching feet and the pounding of the drums and smell the horses and the crowd. These sights, sounds, and smells were familiar to the people of Jerusalem.
At the other end of town, however, something far less predictable was happening: a procession of the Prince of Peace. He wasn’t riding a war horse or in a golden chariot. He was making his way astride a borrowed donkey. His followers paved the way by putting their cloaks down in front of him to keep down the dust. In a radical, perhaps treasonous move, they shouted, “Hosanna!” which translates to “Save us!” It was the kind of shout usually saved for military conquerors.
My guess is that very few in the crowd got what they were expecting or hoping for when Jesus made his way to the city. They must have hoped the reasons for this odd entrance would be made clear once he gave his campaign speech. Or perhaps they figured Jesus was planning to let his actions speak for him. Everything would be clear once he formed his army and began storming up the stairs of Pontius Pilate’s palace.
They were right that Jesus was going to let his actions speak for him. But Jesus did not form an army. He did not initiate a new religious order. The people, who had been what our first lesson today called “prisoners of hope” were crushed when those hopes went unfulfilled. Jesus wasn’t the one who was going to save the world. He had no power, no might, provoked no fear, no awe. They couldn’t bear it. Their disappointment is what caused the priests and revolutionaries to turn from crying Hosanna to crying “Crucify him!” practically overnight.
But that’s a story for later this week. For now, let’s stay with the entry into the city, where trouble’s already brewing. Some people wanted Jesus to silence the revolutionary cries of his followers. It’s hard to know if the Pharisees were concerned for Jesus’ followers or just covering their own butts. Jesus disregarded their clamoring for silence. Some things are too important to keep quiet, and Jesus knows it. He responded that if the people were silent, the stones would cry out.
I’m fascinated by this idea. What, exactly, would the stones cry? There’s a clue in the very next verse. When Jesus reaches the gate of the city, he weeps for Jerusalem, mourns that it “will be crushed, not one stone left upon another. . . because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” The first hearers of Luke’s gospel would have known that Jerusalem was, in fact, destroyed in 70 C.E. There were barely any stones left standing. If the stones had cried out on Palm Sunday, would they have cried out a warning? Would they have cried out encouragement? Perhaps they would simply have cried out in recognition that Jesus, the Beloved, was near.
The gospel of Luke is chock-full of people who cry out in recognition of Jesus, beginning with Elizabeth, who cries out with joy when she sees Mary with child: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child within you!” Later her son, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, John the Baptist cries out: “Behold the lamb of God!” Others who recognize Jesus are more surprising: demons call him by name. A blind beggar by the gate of Jericho cries out, over those who want to silence him: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And there is the parable in Luke 18, in which Jesus praises the persistent widow who cries for justice, to the unjust judge. The judge finally relents, and does the right thing. Jesus wraps up the story with this question: “Won’t God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
Cries for justice; cries of joyous recognition. This is how the Prince of Peace has been heralded. What about today? What are the stones around us crying? University Lutheran highlights a specific ministry each month. In the month of April, ULC is highlighting Earth Ministry. Their work is to help people of faith connect their love for God with the responsibility to care for God’s creation through advocacy and action. In light of that mission, what might the stones around us be warning us about or encouraging us to do on behalf of creation? Are we keeping silent when we should cry out? Do we recognize and acknowledge God’s presence in this time and in this place? And if we do, how do we respond?
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, these words from the prophet came to life: “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your King comes to you, triumphant and victorious. Humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.”
Despite every effort from the Empire to quash it, despite the way his followers were disappointed by his apparent refusal to be the Messiah they longed for, Jesus comes bearing peace. Neither Pontius Pilate with all his military might behind him, nor the conniving religious leaders with the fundamentalists behind them were able to subvert or silence the message of justice, mercy, forgiveness, humility and equality Jesus conveyed.
As we stand at the entrance to Holy Week, how might we cry out our recognition of Jesus during these days? What might we shout about his willingness to enter into places of chaos and destruction, though there’s every reason to stay away? How might we call for justice for the world that God so loves, especially for those unable to cry out for themselves?
We have chosen to throw our cloaks down not for the political and religious powers that be, but for a counter-cultural Savior who lifts up the lowly, gives hope to the hopeless, and eats with sinners. Since Jesus is with us, no matter what, what keeps us from crying out in joy and recognition? There is a world out there, filled with people longing to hear that they matter, that God is not angry, but longing to connect with and heal all in need. There is no shortage of hunger for the Gospel message that God is bigger than all we fear. So let’s not keep that Good News to ourselves. Recognizing Jesus as our Savior, let’s love what he loves, embrace what he embraced, defend what he defended, and honor all of creation, both human and inanimate.
If we choose to remain silent . . . the stones will cry out.
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