From triumph to disaster in a span of 6 days. What happened and why?
We began with a simple enough phrase “ After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28) The parable referred to is Luke’s version of the Parable of the Ten Talents. We hear Matthew’s version in Proper 28A associated with Stewardship, but we never read Luke’s version which as an interesting twist to it. I Luke’s version, like Matthew’s the Master leaves and puts three of his servants in charge of his money. When he returns, he finds two invested wisely and received profits which they turn over to the master, in both the third who received the least to begin with claim out of fear of the Master’s wrath, they put it in a safe place rather than risk investing and are chastised for not using what they were given wisely. Luke adds two twist to this story. First, the master as left for the purpose of being crowned king, so upon returning he is not just master of the house, but head of the whole kingdom. The slave who claimed to have put his coin in a save place and is returning exactly what he was given is found to have lied. He had in fact increased his gains by as much as the one with the most to begin with, but was holding those gains back for himself. In both readings of the parable the third slave is judged harshly for his behavior – Matthew has him cast into the outer darkness and Luke has him executed.
What was Jesus saying and why does this impact the Holy Week Stories?
The master of the house is obviously God who when he returns does so as the Incarnate Christ Jesus who has been made ruler of heaven and earth. At least four times in the Old Testament it is prophesied that God will establish a king who has dominion over all nations (Psalm 2: 6-9, Isaiah 9:6-7, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7: 13-14). It is not clear who the good stewards are – obviously those who use the gifts God has given them to further God’s purpose, but the lazy or deceitful steward is a condemnation of the Temple in Jerusalem and those in power there. Neither point will be missed.
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem he tells his disciples to go ahead and procure a donkey colt and if questioned are to say, “The Lord needs it.” Other people frequently referred to Jesus as Lord, though he seldom used that term for himself. It is a misleading term because it can apply to anyone above you on the social ladder all the way up to God. The people hearing “The Lord needs it” may well have thought it was being confiscated by a Roman official. Jesus may have been using the term in its highest meaning, the word substituted for the name of God given to Moses that is never spoken. What is not misleading is Jesus’ purpose in obtaining the colt of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 declares, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” And in verse 14:3-4 states “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the East” It is no wonder that when the people saw Jesus riding down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem they began crying Hosannah – “Save us”
The people are recognizing that Jesus is fulfilling scripture. When Luke tells us they say, “Blessed is the king that comes in the name of the Lord” they are singing Psalm 118 and substituting the word “king who comes” for “one who comes.” When they declare “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven” they are echoing the words the angels sang at Jesus’ birth according to Luke. (Luke 2: 14). The waving of palm branches were a sign of triumph and the placing of their cloaks on the ground a sign of honor.
On top of fulfilling prophecy and declaring himself king, that fact that he rides into town on the colt of a donkey is a bit of mockery of the Roman Triumph which was a lavish religious and political ceremony marking a victory by a Roman general, by Jesus’ time the only person allowed to lead a Triumph was Caesar himself. In that action, Jesus made himself not only a blasphemer in the eyes of the Temple leaders, but an insurrectionist in the eyes of Rome.
There is not time to relate everything that happened that week. I hope you will participate in our Holy Week activites and hear more of the story, but just hitting the highlights …
We are told Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, just as a parent would weep over a self-destructive child. He knew what would happen in the near future. He knew the consequences of their behavior would be devastating and even his death and resurrection would not stop the escalating violence.
Luke places the cleansing of the temple at this point in the story. Again, Jesus is fulfilling scripture. He quotes Isaiah saying “my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7) and Jeremiah 7:11 says “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.”
Luke has Jesus answering many questions and making several prophesies. In Luke 21:5-6 he foretells the destruction of the Temple, in verses 20-24 he foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. He also quotes Daniel talking about “The son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 20:27 & Dan 7:13)
Luke places Jesus last supper with his disciples at the Passover seder. Jesus uses the signs and symbols of the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by God through Moses and gives them new meaning. He will be the Passover lamb, the innocent sacrifice whose blood will save all mankind from death and slavery to sin. He will institute the sacrament that we know as Holy Eucharist as the ongoing remembrance of his passion and resurrection.
Three old testament passages inform us about the meaning of Jesus betrayal and death. First Number chapter 9 describes the ongoing keeping of the Passover in the year to come. It was so important that even ritual uncleanness (such as recently burying someone) would not prevent someone from participating in the ritual and failure to participate was to cut one off from their people, this was a defining act. Included in this passage is that no bones shall be broken.
Isaiah 53 describes the suffering servant including the passage “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases: yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions…
Psalm 22, which we will hear read on Maundy Thursday seems to describe crucifixion, though there is nothing to suggest it was done it the time it was written. Jesus will quote this psalm from the cross which begins, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus made use of our expectations as found in the scriptures to prove to us that sin and death were not the end. He endured the worst we could do to him to show how much he, God Incarnate, loved us and was willing to sacrifice for us so we could believe. There have been many people who have tried to explain this mystery. For me, Paul said it best, “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5: 19)