Psalm 118:22-29 Mark 11:1-10
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 25, 2018
I was there. I had to get out of Jerusalem and come back to our little town. These past few days have all been too much to bear. I almost did not come to the synagogue this morning to see you, but I knew you would want to hear what had happened in Jerusalem.
It all began when he came into Jerusalem. We were there as he came into the city, riding a young donkey down the Mount of Olives, our peasant leader cheered on by his followers and some curious onlookers like me- a peasant leader surrounded by peasants thrilled by his presence.
Ironically, at the same time, from the other direction, Pontius Pilate, our Roman governor, was entering Jerusalem leading a column of imperial cavalry and foot soldiers. Even though we hate them so much, it was an impressive entrance: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, the sun glinting off the metal and the gold sheen, the marching of so many feet in cadence, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles,
the beating of drums, the dust swirling around them all.
Pilate and his troops had come the 60 miles from Caesarea on the Sea, his splendid coastal residence, to reinforce the garrison in Jerusalem. As is their standard practice, they came to be here during Passover in case there was trouble. Especially at Passover, there is always the possibility of trouble, when we Jews come together to celebrate our liberation from the Egyptians so many years ago. It is a stark reminder of our situation now. After all, oppression is oppression, no matter what its label!
No wonder the 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem are joined by 200,000 pilgrims at this time of year.
No matter what they do to us, they cannot make us forget, cannot completely dispel our desire to be free. They may try to force us to call the emperor “Son of God”, “Savior”, “Lord”, and the one who has brought “peace on earth”, but they know we will never give in and never give up. Yes, the wealthy and the elite have agreed to rule on behalf of Rome, to collaborate with them; but we peasants are just as bad off as ever. They have taken our land and forced us to work at starvation wages, as tenant farmers, indentured servants, and as a last resort, beggars.
There was silence and resentment as the soldiers came into the city. But not at all with this one on the donkey. He had planned his entrance just as carefully as had the governor and his detachment of soldiers. He knew where there was a young donkey and told his followers to get it. The crowds were ecstatic, throwing their cloaks on the ground and cutting branches for him to ride over as he entered, and they were shouting “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But there were those who were watching in the crowd– spies, collaborators– who reported this all to the authorities. We peasants were hopeful, but– I must admit– we were also worried. If there were too much of a disturbance, the response would be swift and terrible.
And he must have known that. But he picked the worst possible week to come here, in some ways, and then he seemed to go out of his way to antagonize the authorities. He caused a huge disruption in the temple courtyard, throwing over tables and chasing away the exchange officers. Luckily the courtyard is 40 acres big, and the soldiers did not bother to come from their barracks next door for a disturbance in one small part of the courtyard.
Later, the temple leaders tried to trap him verbally, but he asked them for a denarius, and he embarrassed them into admitting that they were violating their own law by carrying this coin
with a graven image of the lord emperor on it. We were all thrilled to see him out-think the chief priests and the scribes. After all, how many of us lost our lands because of their foreclosures on us?
And their scribes and their lawyers made sure that it was all “legal” and in order.
He has shown us his intellectual power now, and he obviously has charisma far more powerful than anyone else; we had already seen his power before this, his power to heal and to make people whole. And now it was the exactly the right time for him to show us his political power, time for him to excite the people to rebel, to perform miraculous works from God so that the Romans would be driven out, the temple authorities overthrown, and the people, the peasants, given back their lands! We knew he was capable of leading our revolution. And the time was right.
But he seemed to hesitate. He had them all– all of the people– in the palm of his hand- no pun intended, of course. What was he waiting for?
We had hoped he would show us a better way. We had hoped he would liberate us from all that oppresses us. We had dreamed that he would have power that was even stronger than the Romans.
We had believed that he might understand God better than the temple leaders.
We had felt hope for all of us peasants, the poor, the ill, the prisoners, the hungry and thirsty, the sick,
-the outcasts of society. We had seen a possibility for something different than what the society says will always be our place. We had thought perhaps God cared about us. And we had hoped God was stronger than all those things in life that keep us from living, that limit us, that limit our world, that tell us that there is nothing new under the sun.
He seemed so different. The whole world went after him last week. We did too. Is there any realistic reason for hope?
I guess, deep down inside me, there is this tiny ray of hope that this is not the end, that somehow God has not given up on us. Maybe one day we will find out that there is more to these events than what we are able to see right now.
If this one on the donkey is truly the Messiah, is God’s messenger, and our liberator and savior, then perhaps God is not who we think God is. Right now, I guess we have to remember that this Jesus
really did have us all in the palm of his hand!
And we will have to wait to see what happens next.