Entering Jerusalem

20 March 2016
Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
Passion Sunday Year C (RCL)
Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14 — 23:56

Luke modifies Mark’s passion story in some fairly significant ways. He adds the trial before Herod, which occurs in neither Mark nor Matthew. He adds the lament over Jerusalem (19:41-44). In his account of the last supper, he includes a cup of wine both before and after the meal. These and many other details open interesting questions to ask of Luke.

One detail not found in the other Gospels is the detail of the Pharisees telling Jesus to silence his disciples. Jesus responds that if his disciples were silent, the stones themselves would begin to sing. In both Matthew and Luke, when John the Baptist is preaching by the Jordan, he warns his hearers not to begin to think that having Abraham as ancestor will protect them from the coming judgment, because God is able “from these stones” to raise up children to Abraham. John the Baptist was preaching by the Jordan, where Joshua had instructed the leaders of the tribes to take stones from the bed of the river as they crossed over to make a pile of stones on the other side. That way, in future generations ask the meaning of the pile of stones, they will be reminding of crossing into the holy land. This pile may very well be the stones John was referring to.

That Luke has Jesus make a similar reference serves two purposes. It takes the reader back to the beginning of his story, to complete the circle, and it reminds us that God is able to make disciples from stones — there is no special status here. All are invited to join the procession, whether children of Abraham or not.

Luke makes a number of other references back to the beginning of his story. The shout of the crowds is different in Luke than in the other Gospels. The crowds shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord (so far the same); Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” The second phrase quotes the song of the angels at Jesus’ birth, which in turn quotes an inscription by the cities of Asia Minor to Caesar proclaimed at the end of the civil wars. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, rather than a war horse, indicating he comes in peace (Zechariah 9:9), juxtaposing the reign of Caesar to the reign of God.

Luke also makes a reference back to the beginning of his Gospel in the details of the preparation for the passover. Jesus sends two of disciples into the city who ask a householder to show them the guest room where they may prepare the passover (22:11). The word for guest room is kataluma, which means something like caravansary (a place to unbind pack animals). It was at the kataluma that there was no room for Mary and Joseph when they arrived at Bethlehem, and so Jesus was laid in a feeding trough. Now he becomes food for the world.

These references back to the beginning provide a nice way of bracketing the whole story. These conclusions were already present in the beginnings. The passion of Jesus is not some tragic accident, but part of the plan from the beginning. Luke is intentionally juxtaposing the reign of Caesar and the reign of God. And the reign of God is not something waiting for us off in the distant future (although there will be a return), but something we engage in right now. Jesus’ lament of Jerusalem in Luke says they failed to recognize God’s visitation, but even now it is not too late.

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