If you are listening to Day 1, then chances are you know that Jesus told a story about a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho, and that guy got beaten up badly and robbed roadside. Well, in today’s story, maybe Jesus is trying to reverse the theme of street violence by traveling in the other direction. In the 19th chapter of Luke, Jesus is traveling the other way - from Jericho to Jerusalem.
As you know, Luke is structured as a travelogue and the story moves as Jesus moves. And the Luke journey is traipsing to Jerusalem… it all moves toward a cross and empty tomb. Theologian Martin Kahler famously described a gospel as a “passion narrative with an extended introduction.” [Martin Kahler, The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, 80 n. 11] The movement in Luke’s gospel is taking us to the Passion, to Jerusalem and the events of the last week. Now, on the Sunday before Easter, Holy Week is upon us, and Jesus has not quite gotten there.
Jericho to Jerusalem is 22 miles so it’s a good haul by foot. And by the time of our story in Chapter 19, Jesus has traveled about 20 of those miles and made his way to the Mount of Olives - to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany, which sit about a mile and a half outside Jerusalem. Bethany… the city name means “house of the poor” or “house of the afflicted.”
Maybe it should be no surprise that a man fell among thieves in Jesus’ story. Until somebody takes care of the poor people in Bethany, I guess we are going to have this problem. Two political answers, really - some want elected officials who will bring social programs to Bethany and take care of the poverty. Others want more police officers, a bigger police presence on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho - that will keep the robbers at bay.
“New leadership” - that’s what we need. “New power in government will change everything - we will have peace at last.” It is the cry of every election.
Anyway, Jesus has gotten to within about a mile and a half of journey’s end, and Jesus sends two disciples into one of the nearby towns for a colt. Some of the disciples threw their cloaks on the colt, making a makeshift saddle, and Jesus begins the triumphal journey down the Mount of Olives into this last stretch of the salvation journey.
Did I mention that folks were eager for new leadership? “New power in government will change everything.” Roman Emperor Tiberius was on the throne and his governor Pontius Pilate exacted Roman rule over all of Judea, and the Jewish people were just tired of being outsiders to the power. In the land that was promised to Abraham and his descendants, they were subjects of Rome, which was utterly humiliating. “New government leadership will change this situation.” That was the chant, the bedtime story. One day, God will send Messiah, the savior, and when he takes the throne, it will be a good day for us. “New power in government will change everything. We will have peace at last.”
And so, as Jesus makes his way down the path from the Mount of Olives, a frenzied crowd of hopefuls praised God and anticipated their deliverance. They shouted,
Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!
Jesus continues along the road from high atop the Mount of Olives. His pitiful colt galumphs along the trail, until he turns a corner and sees, down below, the beautiful Jerusalem. And when Jesus sees the city, he cries. He cries.
There is, today, a Catholic chapel on the hillside where Jesus is supposed to have stopped the colt and cried. The church is formed in the shape of a teardrop and the name of the church is “Dominus Flevit,” Latin for “the Lord weeps.” [William C. Carter, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Pastoral Perspective, p.156]
The city he sees below is a broken city. There are excluded Jews and Roman soldiers brandishing weapons. There are beggars at the city gates in the shadows of palaces. Violence and threat and shadow and deceit. He’s just left Bethany, the “house of the poor,” the “house of the afflicted,” and he looks down into the threat of another torn community chasing political power and campaign promises and hoped-for government change… and Jesus sobs and cries some more. He finally wipes his face on his sleeve and says, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
This is the tragedy of a frothed-up crowd, expecting a new regime, a sword-bearing, takeover-the-throne kind of king. The tragedy is that they think that new power in government will change everything. “We will have peace at last.”
I live in Atlanta, where in the summer of 2020 race riots broke out in response to police violence. Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer after being stopped for a DUI. After a struggle, Brooks was shot from behind after taking an officer’s Taser during the fight and pointing it at him as he ran away. Later, protesters in response to the violent death of Mr. Brooks burned down the Wendy’s restaurant where Rayshard Brooks was killed. Critics accused city leaders of letting the situation get out of hand. “New power in government will change everything. We will have peace at last - or something like that.”
One of the protesters, Nuke Stevenson (I’m not making this up… his name is Nuke), 25 years old, brought an AR-15 just in case of a confrontation between marchers and the police. The newspaper quoted him as saying, “Force is often used unjustly against our side. This isn’t meant as a show of aggression. My goal is to help keep the peace.” [Christian Boone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Protesters march on Atlanta Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed” (Online) Updated July 11, 2020]
And Jesus looked down on the city. He saw police with tactical gear and guns to help keep the peace. He saw a protester with an AR-15 to help keep the peace… and Jesus sobbed and said, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
Because on that day, the man riding a colt - not a war stallion - galumphed his way into the city limits of Jerusalem, amid the frenzy of people who thought they finally got the right government, the right politic, the right king. And the Prince of Peace cried and said, “You don’t get it.”
Across the ages, from Pontius Pilate to the current U.S. President, Governor of Georgia, Mayor of Atlanta, the crowds are still frenzied and insistent that the right new power in government will change everything. “We will have peace at last.”
The answer is not found in buildings where flags fly but in buildings with steeples. Jesus did come to bring a new rule, but his strength is not positioned on the corner with a Kevlar vest and ammo. Until his rule happens in the lives of individuals, peace will evade us all. Racial conflict is not a social problem. Racial discord is a spiritual problem - it is the failure to see every human as made in the image of God. Violence is an outward expression of an inward reality. Our outside world mirrors our spiritual condition.
The Prince of Peace has come to upend the structures and parties and powers that take by force. Jesus does not enter the city on a war stallion, but on a colt. His new Kingdom is alive in the hearts of people who search for Christ’s peace first within their own souls, so that they may be agents of that peace in the world.
The news outlets will offer us 24-hour coverage of the next elections - city, state, and nation. We will put bumper stickers on our cars and lose friendships based on which candidates we lay palm branches before, and the frenzy will start all again… insisting that the right government will change everything. But last week, when I baptized an 11-year-old boy was when the cause of peace took its biggest step forward. He came up wet from baptism declaring that he wants to follow the man on the colt.