Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Confronting the Authorities

27 Mar 2021, midnight

On Palm Sunday we celebrate King Jesus riding into Jerusalem and the crowds shouting Hosanna to the son of David; save now, rescue us.”

It was the cry of distress addressed to a king or god. The crowds knew Jesus could save and heal them. They had seen him heal many sick people, raise the dead and set free many held in the grip of evil. Their cry was reasonable.

If Jesus was the Son of David, able to command the winds and waves and do all the signs that they had seen him do, then surely he would rescue them from the greatest evil of all, the tyranny and idolatry of Rome, the violence they continued to experience, the injustice of being a subjugated race and being economically oppressed and the consequent illnesses that were a result of this. Many today also cry, save and heal me now Lord. Heal my friend, my relative my loved one.

But Jesus didn’t cast out the Roman Army. Instead he cast out the money lenders and those who were buying and selling in the temple. He continued to question the authority of the chief priests, he sided with tax collectors and sinners and directly opposed the religious Jewish authorities. The confrontation was bound to either propel him to worldly leadership of Israel or to his death as a traitor. Defeated enemies of the state were crucified. Thousands of Jewish zealots and false Messiah’s met this death.

By coming publicly into Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, riding on a colt, Jesus proclaimed himself King of the Jews. He came on an ass as a sign of peace, not upon a war horse. He was throwing down the challenge, “Accept me as your King of peace or do your worst. Open your hearts to me and follow my way. You cannot be manipulated by the scribes and Pharisees and led by me. You have to choose which way you will follow.”

If we had been there what would have been our expectations and what would we have done?

Jesus’ disciples loved him and wanted to follow him to the end. They had listened to his three graphic predictions of his suffering and death and his rebuke of Peter who had responded in the way we would probably have done. “No Lord, don’t let it happen to you.”

They had listened to Moses and Elijah talk to him about his death and seen him transfigured before them, shining in his heavenly glory.

Now Jesus, who had told those he had healed to keep their healings secret was openly entering Jerusalem in a way that would antagonise both the religious and Roman authorities, proclaiming he was the Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for.

The disciples must have been frightened and excited. They had attended Jewish festivals many times before with Jesus but this time was going to be different. Jerusalem was packed with as many as 250 thousand pilgrims attending the Passover, celebrating God setting his people free from the tyranny of Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt.

There were no protests from Jesus’ loyal disciples, even though it must have been clear to them by now that either Jesus was committing suicide and therefore they must fear for their own safety, or miraculously Jesus would win the battle to come. They could not have anticipated that victory and salvation would come through Jesus being crucified.

When they reached Bethphage, one of the places pilgrims stayed when Jerusalem was full Jesus sent two of his disciples to find the colt that has never been ridden; Jesus had made preparations. They were to tell anyone that tried to stop them taking the colt that “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.”’

Jesus chose a colt because it hadn’t been broken showing he had authority over nature. He was also showing he was a King, riding an animal no one else had ridden deliberately fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Though Jesus showed he was came in peace his action was ambiguous, for Jewish writings and prophecies indicated that the Messiah, would, shatter, smash and break the ruling powers.

The crowd of pilgrims were ecstatic. Their time had come. They threw their cloaks on the colt and Jesus sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. They were a celebrating. Those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna!” A similar word used in Psalm 118:25 says “Save us, we pray, O Lord! Give us success!”

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,”was the usual greeting with which pilgrims were addressed when they reached the temple. He who comes was a reference to the coming Messiah.

The crowd expected a political ruler and a military conqueror. They looked forward to the coming kingdom of their ancestor David.

The Romans, who occupied Palestine, recognised no king but the Roman Emperor. The Jews knew that if they defied Roman rule, the emperor would not hesitate to come down on them with an iron fist. But the people were desperate, and they saw in Jesus the leader for whom they had been yearning. Shouts of “Hosanna” would be seen as treason by the Romans. Pontius Pilate the Roman governor in Jerusalem seeking to keep the peace during Passover, would later that week when Jesus was on trial, ask him, “Are you a King?”

The way of God is not control and coercion, but compassion. It’s not domination and oppression, but justice. It’s not persecution and violence, but peace.

Instead of rallying his battle force, Jesus went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. He was planning his next move, when he would vandalise the temple further antagonising the religious authorities.

Whist the disciples, the Roman and Jewish authorities felt threatened by Jesus and the crowd fervently believed Jesus would become an earthly ruler, there was one person in the gospel of the Passion who did understand what Jesus was about to do. That person was the woman who came to the house of Simon the leper with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, that she broke and poured on Jesus’ head. It was custom to anoint a guest with a few drops, but this woman poured out all she had. The perfume was equivalent to an average mans wages for three years but what this woman did was priceless, an act of great bravery.

It was a reckless act of love and she received a scolding from those who believed the money should go to the poor. She embarrassed those present. She should not have been there but love doesn’t count the cost

It was a prophetic act. She alone realised that Jesus had come into Jerusalem to die and was anointing his body for burial.

Like those in the crowd we cry Hosanna, save us and heal, acknowledging that Jesus is able and wants to save.

We greet him as our King, inviting him to have his way in our lives whatever the outcome.

Unlike the crowd, we must not and cannot use Jesus for our own ends in an attempt to gain advantage and power.

When we look at the horrific suffering of our age and the lack of wisdom when leaders of our day attempt to sort out problems by use of military might that feeds their egos, we cry, “Lord save us,” in the assurance that he will. That salvation will come, not as a result of Jesus using the force available to him but as a result of his great love for us which caused him to die on a cross so that we could be forgiven for the things we have done wrong. Jesus saves us through his cross and resurrection.

That love requires that we respond, like the woman who poured out her perfume, in love and worship.

True and humble king,

hailed by the crowd as Messiah:

grant us the faith to know you and love you,

that we may be found beside you

on the way of the cross,

which is the path of glory. Amen