Luke 19:28-40 – Palm 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 . . .
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.
* * *
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.”
A shopkeeper’s wife and her husband waited for the crowds to disperse and then—staying within the shadows of buildings and walls—they scurried to their tiny shop with its boarded entrance and shuttered windows. After a nervous glance to see if anyone noticed, the two slipped through the rear door.
The woman said to her husband, “That Jesus will overthrow the Romans. That’s what everyone is saying. By next week, God’s judgment will come to them. Soon, we won’t owe Caesar anything. Soon those foul-mouthed soldiers and cheating tax collectors will be met by divine wrath and we’ll be rich. Mark my words . . . all of those who deserve it will be punished.”
A farmer trudged back to his village and its surrounding fields, almost home when he realized he’d left his cloak on the road between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Should he go back? No need.
Soon he was sure he could buy another cloak, or even a cloak for every day of the week. He was convinced that if he memorized every word Jesus uttered, he too would become powerful. Wasn’t that what others said about the Nazarene? His words were special! Divine. With the right words said at the right time, you could drive away the devil himself. With magic words, he’d be powerful. He could have anything he wanted.
* * *
Every year as we wend toward this week called Holy, I wonder about Palm Sunday.
The four Gospels depicted Jesus parading into the city. He rode a colt, but weren’t the expectations of the crowd riding along with him?
The Gospel authors, decades later, tried to capture the moment. Did they embellish it? Had Jesus’ followers swelled from the dozen known by name to a host of uncounted, nameless believers? We can’t be sure. But we can be sure there were rumors. False hopes. Selfish dreams. Fractured memories. In my view—though I too am seduced with the false, selfish and fractured—none of the Palm Sunday crowd understood.
Whether ancient or here-and-now, faith becomes curdled by thinking that healing is about returning to the old normal. We still fear limping toward the new ways of forgiveness and vulnerability.
Whether ancient or here-and-now, faith is easily corrupted by believing money is our ruin or salvation. In Jerusalem, with Caesar’s visage on those glorious coins, wealth was worshipped. Currency still rules our hearts . . . “In God We Trust” matters more on the currency in leather wallets than within the leathery hearts of many believers.
Whether ancient or here-and-now, the faithful memorize words and verses, wielding the “sacred” phrases as if a weapon or a magical mantra. My interpretation of the Bible always trumps yours!
Holy week was first unholy. Palm Sunday was a wreck of a day. The Gospel writers, God bless them, knew resurrection was around the corner and come Sunday, but didn’t shrink from the whole, sordid tale of a crowd that shouted, “Hosanna,” and continued with, “Crucify him.”
(Image purloined from here.)