Zechariah 9:9-12 Psalm 145:8-14 Romans 7:15-25a Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
It never ceases to amaze me that just when I thought I understood a Bible story quite well, something comes along to change my mind and set me back to the beginning, where I need to rethink some or all of my suppositions, that happened this week from my reading.
Zechariah gives us a prophecy he says that the Messiah will come riding on a donkey. We of course know that came true when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. No problem so far although the text in Matthew (21:15) seems to say that Jesus is riding on two animals at the same time. Jesus was not a circus performer and such errors in Scripture put the lie to the literal infallibility of the Bible, advocated by some denominations. The Bible is a document inspired by God but it is written by human hands, which like everything else human is fallible. The Bible has great truths, stories and histories, lessons, wonders and poetry and most of all the story of God’s Salvation Plan for us, but in a few details it can be a little off. That’s why we as Anglicans interpret our Faith through the lens of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, the three work together well for us to find the Truth, the Truth of God’s revelation, which never falters.
However that was not what brought me up short this week, it was a new revelation for me of Jesus’ ministry. We know He had a preference for the poor; the poor were the victims of society, particularly high society – the rich, the landowners, the temple authorities, and Rome. Jesus preaches about our loving God, the Kingdom, Salvation, the equality of all, and how we should be charitable to the less fortunate, the orphan, the widow and the stranger. He spoke up against those who oppress others – the rich, the landowners, the priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes, and the great oppressor, Rome. There are lots of stories of Jesus going toe-to-toe with them all.
One occasion I discovered is not so obvious. It arises out of Jesus riding on that donkey on Palm Sunday. As you know at that time crowds were gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Jews from all over Israel and the Roman Empire had flooded in to celebrate their most holy of festivals. So they were excited, tense from overcrowding, anxious and for the most part pretty restless. Zionism, Jewish nationalism, got hotter during this festival because it represents freedom from slavery in Egypt. Knowing this the Roman army boosted its numbers to control any uprising that might occur. Pontius Pilate, the Governor, lived in his capital, Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean shores (even he was worried about having his embassy in Jerusalem, way back then) and every Passover he brought more troops to the city as insurance. He entered by the west gate, being in the direction of the coast.
Now get the symbolism of this. As Pilate came in from the west on horseback, with chariots and soldiers, with banners, drums and trumpets, Jesus entered by the east gate riding on a donkey ! The contrast could not be more exaggerated. Jesus shows the difference, dramatically, between His Way and the oppressor’s way, by way of a Prophetic Act. God’s Kingdom is not one of force and might, but one of humility and peace. No one challenges Rome – but Jesus did, and did it large. The Jewish authorities were in a sweat just thinking of the potential mayhem that could follow.
We have generally heard that Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. I have come to believe that it is not a march of triumph, so much as a challenge, it is here that Jesus throws the gauntlet down to Rome and the elite Jews, saying their way is no longer the way it’s going to be. God is taking over, righting the wrongs of the oppressors. So, stand back ! The people for generations had been oppressed by the one percent (yes they were around then just as much as they are today) the wealthy, the powerful, who made decisions for their own advantage at the expense of the common folk. This was the first civil disobedience protest. We know what Rome did with protesters, they crucified them. Jesus went into this with His eyes wide open.
Amid all the turmoil and unfairness of life Jesus says that He has the cure, He says “Come unto me all that are heavy laden and I will refresh you”.
What does that mean ? It means regardless of your condition in life, by following Jesus, believing in Him, we can get rid of the burdens we carry and live with peace of mind. It’s like when you finally pay-off your mortgage, you own your own home at last, you don’t have to worry about someone kicking you out, usurping all your hard work, and stealing your fondest dreams. You can put your burden down and be refreshed, at peace. That’s what Jesus means.
How can that happen today, Jesus has ascended into heaven and has not yet returned ? Well we are the hands, arms, feet and voice of Jesus in this world, it is us whom He appoints to help those suffering burdens in this life. Those burdens run the full gamut from poverty, sickness, injustice, loneliness or just too much to do in a day, whether here or abroad, whether strangers or family. We have to ask, how are we being Jesus in our world today ?
Well we have social systems funded by our taxes and charitable givings. Our government, on our behalf, gives a lot of money to relief efforts around the world, and we give as individuals but none of that seems to be enough because there are still so many people that are in distress. Jesus by His entry into Jerusalem was making a political statement, fueled by His belief in the value of every human being, remember He healed those who were His enemies too. Our mission is to pick up from where Jesus left it to us. A lively church is one that looks outward more than inward. We always have the opportunity to speak out and do what is needed. It is our calling. I know we have enough faith to complete Jesus work here. During this time of renewal and next steps pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our continuing mission so that we get our direction right and bring the Kingdom through the Gate of Humility and Peace. And pray that Zechariah’s prophecy will be answered for us, as we do God’s will. He says “Today I declare that I will restore to you double” may we witness that as we venture forward loving God and loving our neighbour. Amen.