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.

jesusentry22A thousand pairs of eyes fixed on his distant figure. Beggars, whores and priests stared. Soldiers ceased breathing, hooded eyes tracking every movement.

How many were in Jerusalem on that day? Had a city of 30,000 grown to 60,000? Or was it 60,000 to 100,000? Passover always turned David’s city into a humid, foul, surreal mess. Makeshift tents were erected wherever there was unclaimed ground. Prophets screeched on the temple steps. Country bumpkins mingled with the wealthiest citizens.

And he came closer.

A thousand more eyes turned.

Hands reached to tear branches from trees. Cloaks were strewn on the ground.

Nicodemus fought to the edge of the mob, ignoring the elbows constantly jabbing his side. Many recognized him. And yet he didn’t care who saw him here. Let them put him on the list of suspicious Pharisees. Let them do their corrupt deeds. It was time to stand in the light.

The woman who’d lived near Jacob’s well most of her life pushed forward, pinched and cursed and bruised. She knew she’d left her bag of coins on the table. And yet she didn’t care . . . all the Roman silver in the world was not as important as another chance to be with the one that now approached.

Hazael, once blind, shouldered through nervous centurions and eager thieves. The beaten and broken Pharisee he’d met at Siloam’s pool trailed him. “Come,” the man born sightless urged his companion, “I wish to see him one more time.” Maybe he’d have no chance, and yet if there were any chance, Hazael would treasure one more fleeting encounter.

Martha hated visiting Jerusalem, hated being lost in a throng of fools, and yet couldn’t remain in the safety of her home knowing Jesus faced danger. Wedged between two whores—one she recognized as a childhood friend from Bethany—Martha spied a table to her left. A moment later, she clambered onto the table’s top for a better view.

jesusentry23And there he was.

Shouts reverberated off the city’s walls. Newly naked trees swayed in the crowd’s surge. Clouds birthed on the great sea lumbered overhead, eastbound, casting shadows.

“Hosanna!” thousands of voices cried as one.

“Hosanna to the Son of David,” thousands more voices replied.

“Blessed is the one . . .”

Nicodemus wept. Cleansed, he felt. Whole, he felt. Humbled, he felt.

The woman with more husbands than she could count, and none were worth counting, sank to her knees as if in prayer, reaching for him, remembering, rejoicing.

Hazael, heart aflame with love, did not join in the chorus of “Hosannas,” but only gazed toward the carpenter’s son, saying, over and over and over again . . . thank you, thank you, thank you. And yet the once blind man also saw everything and realized his companion had left his side. Surveying the crowd, Hazael spotted the broken and beaten Pharisee, only an arm’s reach away, standing beside another priest. They too had not joined the chants of “Hosanna.” He saw and heard their words . . . we will crucify him. Hazael attempted to confront the Pharisee he’d helped, but a soldier knocked him down. In the dirt, struggling to rise, he heard more whispers . . . crucify him. If only he could warn Jesus.

The man from Nazareth, astride a colt, turned a corner and was gone.

Martha, legs trembling as she balanced on the table, watched the one who knew her like no other vanish from sight. Gone.

Gone.jesusentry30

As she stepped down from the table, the whore she’d known as a shy girl from one of Bethany’s poorest families blocked her path.

“You’re Martha! From Bethany, right?”

Martha nodded.

“I heard that prophet stayed in your house last night.”

“Yes.” How could she know that?

“And he raised Lazarus from the dead?”

Martha nodded. “My brother lives.”

The whore—what was her name, Martha wondered—hissed into Martha’s ear, “I screwed a priest last night.” The whore cackled. “How cheap and quick those hypocrites are.” Her breath reeked of onions and sour milk. “But he told me this . . . that friend of yours will be killed. Dragged in the street. Hung on a tree. They hate him . . . every one of those bastards.” Her lips pressed against Martha’s ear. “Tell him to get out of this pigsty for a town if he wants to live.”

Then the whore, a shy girl who once hid behind her mother’s garments, rejoined the others that waited in shadows.

Martha, a thousand voices shouting around her, screamed.

There was no safe place.

Wind swirled. Branches chattered. Banners fluttered.

Who is this?

(Images from here.)

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