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This week we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Thousands of people had made the journey to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and so were ready for God to work his wonders. When word got around that Jesus was coming into town, riding a colt, people knew that he was making a statement about who he was. The long awaited Messiah had come and things were going to change. It is interesting to think about what changes the Jews were expecting to come from Jesus, since it may shed light on us and our own expectations of God. Some Jews believed the Messiah would be a political figure who would break the Roman oppression and lead Israel to political ascendancy over the entire region. Others felt that the Messiah was going to restore the Jerusalem temple and worship of YHWH to prominence and that the world would be converted from their false gods to the one true God. Some had given up on the temple and the priests and held that the Messiah was going to come to cleanse the temple of those who were compromising with outsiders, and restore the forms of worship to their original holiness. Of course from our vantage point in history we see that these groups were somewhat wrongheaded, at least in their expectations, but when Jesus came openly to Jerusalem riding on a colt, here is what happened:
36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Luke 19:36-44
Wrapped in all these words was the longing for the coming of the Messiah to free the Jews from their bondage to the Romans. Many of Jesus’ disciples still didn’t get the reality of Jesus mission to us. They only saw the political side of things, they still thought that Jesus would come as a military conqueror that would push the Romans out of their homeland and establish the dominance of Israel. There was language in the prophets that pointed to this if you really wanted them to, and nobody wanted them to as much as a group of people who were being severely oppressed. They would love to get their foot on some Roman necks. They didn’t necessarily want to change the way the world worked, they just wanted to be the ones on top. Jesus on the other hand knew that his call was not to operate in the world’s pattern, but to live and act in ways that challenged the ideas of domination. When we look at the curse in Genesis, we see the introduction of domination into human relationships. “16To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” (Genesis 3:16) The word mawshal or “rule” can also be translated as to have dominion, reign or have power over. This curse spread well beyond male and female and led to societies that are built entirely on the patterns of top down domination. Jesus did not come to replace the people at the top of the political and religious domination hierarchies, but to entirely subvert the whole notion of domination in order to overturn the curse. Jesus did not come to dominate, but to save us from the patterns of domination that come from the selfish desires of broken humanity. The people were ready to welcome him on their terms by their preconceptions, but Jesus saw right away that they were not prepared to welcome him as the Prince of Peace. This can be a warning to us: that when we think of Jesus giving us domination over others we may be operating from assumptions that come from fallen ideas and not the love, grace, and mercy that comes from the servanthood exemplified in the cross.
There were some people who actually understood Jesus aim and because of their desire to be at the top opposed him. These people were both those in power who wanted to maintain their power and those who weren’t that felt it was their turn to have some domination over others. These of course are the chief priests and the Pharisees. Neither group was ready to let Jesus overturn the power structure and accept servanthood as the highest form of leadership. Knowing what Jesus was about, they worked hard at opposing him and there were some who told Jesus he had to stop his followers from proclaiming him as the Messiah, who comes under the banner of the name of the Lord. The Pharisees and priests had the banners of national and religious identity that they were going to use to gain greater numbers of people to serve them and their religious system. Oh and incidentally they would mention God a lot so that they could keep the power trip moving along.
Of course their first instinct was to try to silence Jesus and his disciples, but Jesus makes a fairly cryptic statement that says in effect even if you silence humans the earth itself will testify to the truth of the messiah. This sounds a little strange to modern ears, but the bible, especially the Psalms are full of reminders that “1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4a Creation itself is considered to be a witness of God’s glory and Jesus here invokes that same sense that even when humans are silenced God still reaches out through the witness of creation. God uses many means to communicate with us if we only silence ourselves and listen, but just like the Pharisees and the priests we can get so caught up in the way the world operates that we stop paying attention to the witnesses around us. Jesus’ response to this rejection of God’s witnesses is to mourn the things that draw God’s people away from His ways of peace, wholeness and well-being. Jerusalem had chosen the path of domination and in so doing would reap a harvest of destruction. Domination is a destructive act, it attacks the value of the person being dominated and denies the image of God in others.
As followers of Jesus we have a mission to restore the damage done through the systems and individual acts of domination to those precious images of God that surround us. Jesus began the process by teaching his disciples to serve others rather than force others to serve them, and he demonstrated this all through his ministry, but most strikingly in his obedience in dying on the cross and in his actions and words following the last supper. Jesus took off his outer garment and wrapped himself in a cloth as a slave, got out the washing supplies and to the horror of the disciples got down on his knees and washed their feet. A chore so onerous and gross in that climate that you could not order a slave to do it, you had to ask them. In these acts Jesus showed us what kind of God we have, a God who calls us into the path of loving service and out of the world’s path of destructive domination.
The Jews, of Jesus’ day, were looking for a strong, conquering Messiah that would give them power, dominion, and revenge and because they were looking for someone else they didn’t see Jesus. It is easy to be blinded by the values of the society around us to see another person as something less than a bearer of the image of God. The Jews missed Jesus because they were looking for their Messiah and not God’s Messiah, and we can easily make the same mistake if we do not keep our guard up and remember to follow the healing path of service. If we follow the healing path of service that Jesus pioneered for us, we will live in the same power and wonder that the early church experienced as they followed the priorities of God’s kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right. As we prepare to remember the last supper and have communion with God and each other during our time of open worship, don’t just remember the feast, but remember the call of Jesus to serve as he washed the feet of his disciples:
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. John 13:12-15