No Safe Place

Matthew 21: 1-11  – Palm Sunday – for Sunday, April 13, 2014

“When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking ‘Who is this?'” (Matthew 21:10)

Jesus.
Who is this?

Jesus?
Is this . . . who?

Jesus . . .
This, who is!

jesusentry20All the wide streets, narrow alleys and beaten paths emptied more debris and people into the roiling, boisterous crowd. Wind swirled. Branches chattered. Banners fluttered. Officers barked orders. Soldiers tightened grips on swords and spears. Shopkeepers closed early or doubled their prices. Whores beckoned from the shadows. Thieves rejoiced; so many pockets, so little time. Children played a dozen variations of tag. Dogs snatched food from unsuspecting hands. Over there, two were joined by two more when a fistfight erupted. Not far away, a cripple was trampled. Down a few steps, a woman stabbed a man with his knife. A beggar snatched a purse of coins left on a table. A priest fondled a woman and was kneed in the groin. And they shouted . . .

Help!
Hooray!
Yes!
No!
Now!
Later!
Please!
Never!
I need . . .
You can’t have . . .

And then he came. Closer. Continue reading →

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The Sun-Scorched Path

Luke 19:28-40Palm Sunday – for March 24, 2013

“(T)he whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully . . .” (Luke 19:37)

We call it Palm Sunday. Luke’s Gospel said . . .

As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As 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 . . .

jesus-christ-riding-into-jerusalem-for-passoverAnd then Jesus entered Jerusalem, the City of David.

Soon, the swirling dust on the wending, sun-scorched path settled down. After the colt carrying Jesus passed by, most of the crowd reclaimed their cloaks. But some clothing was left, trampled to the color of dirt and unnoticed or simply forgotten by their owner.

Out on the road, encircled by the ancient hills, the shouts faded. In the distance, people inside Jerusalem’s walls now cheered—or jeered—the man from Nazareth, the echo of their voices ebbing and flowing.

A quiet returned to the pilgrim’s route that serpentined east to Jericho, the Jordan River and beyond. Though soon, another crowd or caravan would likely approach the City of David. This was, after all, the city of prophets and dreamers. And yet also the city of profits and losses, where a few hoarded Caesar’s silver while most of the rest begged for even a single copper coin. Here, since David’s reign, thieves and princes, whores and virgins, priests and pretenders all scrambled to achieve their dreams and schemes.

Still, there were those abandoned cloaks, along with other detritus of frantic human activity scattered across the road:  discarded bits of bread, frayed sandal straps, shards of pottery and the like.

When crowds gather, there was always litter.

And rumors.

*        *        *

A man with a limp—years before a Roman wagon, heavy with grain, rolled over his foot—struggled back home. He rehearsed the speech he’d deliver to his wife and neighbors.

“This Jesus fellow will cure everyone. They say he’s a healer. They say all you have to do is touch his garment. They say there’s God’s power to him. If only I had gotten closer today, I would’ve touched him. And so I’ll go the city and try again tomorrow. I’ll grab onto him and won’t let go. He will cure me. With one miracle, everything will change for the better.” Continue reading →

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Untying the Colt

Mark 11:1-11 – Palm Sunday – for April 1, 2012

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives…” (Mark 11:1)

We call it Palm Sunday now.

Palm Sunday, then or now...

But back then, on a Sunday two millennia ago, what kind of day dawned? The Jewish Sabbath had ended after Saturday’s sun set across first century Palestine. Was Sunday a day where coolness lingered in the morning, providing a brief respite from the day’s inevitable heat? Or—as women stirred to make the first trip to hoist cooking water from the wells or men grumbled while trudging toward a field to capture wandering sheep—did sweat already slick cheeks before the mean-spirited sun cleared the horizon?

*      *      *

A Roman Centurion gazed at the empty desert sky, wondering what Rome really looked like. He’d never been there.

The blacksmith stoked his fire. An order for nails today. Thick ones. Long ones. Damn Romans and their damn demands.

A Jerusalem shopkeeper squatted to shit, thinking he should raise his prices because the demand would be so great as the crowds increased around Passover.

Across town, having just comforted his crying child while his wife breast-fed their newest, a carpenter knew he’d have to leave soon. He’d ordered extra supplies to build more festival booths. Did he really have enough wood? Or too much?

Pilate awoke from another restless night. Barely shifting, for he didn’t want to disturb his wife, he glanced at her. Just enough light to trace the contours of her round face. Were her eyelids fluttering? Was she dreaming her awful dreams again? She was plagued by them, and invariably shared her nocturnal dis-ease with him. Pilate’s throat felt parched; too much wine last night . . . or not enough. How he hated this forgotten garbage dump of the Empire.

The high priest, guilt like a sword pricking his heart, paused in the courtyard’s gray shadows. His eager eyes followed two women carrying caged birds for a temple sacrifice. Yesterday the younger one, now near enough to hear the rustle of her garments as they strolled by, had gazed at him longer than was acceptable. He should’ve chastised her or turned away. But he hadn’t. Couldn’t. Like then, he kept watching. The priest grimaced while he adjusted the phylactery he’d tied too tightly on his arm. The woman looked in his direction. Could she see him?

A mother kneaded bread in the darkness of a back room. Extra loaves were required today. Because of Passover, more family would crowd into her cramped space. She didn’t know if the bloated, noisy festival pleased God, but it brought her children home. That pleased her.

As flat morning light filtered through a shuttered window, a whore finally claimed her bed for herself.

Children scampered in the streets, dirt-streaked before their first meal.

A dog, thin ribs exposed like a fence, gnawed at a discarded bone . . .

 

. . . At Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, the Nazarene slowed his ground-consuming gait and then, abruptly, stopped. I expected he’d say something to Simon Peter, who’d matched him stride for stride, or perhaps to John, a half step behind. But he gazed at me. And the disciple beside me. Continue reading →

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