Matthew 21:10 “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’”
One of the typical things Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem do is to take the “Palm Sunday Walk.” Good Christian pilgrim that I was, I did this too. We began up at the top of the Mt. of Olives at the chapel which commemorates the place where Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept, saying that he longed to take the people under his wings the way a mother hen takes in her chicks, but they were not willing. Then you walk down the steep road, past the Garden of Gethsemane and toward the Eastern gate of the city.
It looks a bit different now. About a hundred years ago somebody built up high walls on both sides of the road so that it now resembles more of a toboggan run than a street. I remember thinking that riding a donkey down the steep and narrow path would be much better than walking. There are lots of reminders of death along that way. With Zechariah 14 prophesying that the Mt. of Olives is where the end of earthly things and the beginning of heavenly things will take place, lots of people want to be buried there in order to be first in line for the resurrection. Zechariah himself is buried there along with 150,000 like minded individuals. Burials in Jerusalem are above ground, so the slope of the Mt. of Olives is white with tombs.
During the tour, I was reminded that there were two processions into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Of course Jesus entering the Eastern gate of Jerusalem on a donkey with people waving palms was one. The other procession was on the other side of town. Coming in the Western gate that same day would have been Pontius Pilate on a horse with his entourage. Pilate did not have his headquarters in Jerusalem. He was stationed in Caesarea, a lovely seaside town in the north. But when it came time for huge numbers of people to descend on Jerusalem for a festival, Pilate came to be where the action was. And so, for Passover, Pilate traveled down the Via Maris and entered Jerusalem from the west.
I also learned a new thing about palms. Of course they are native to the area and thus would be a natural thing to wave. But that wasn’t all. In the days of the Hasmoneans (140-37 BC), when Israel experienced a brief and exhilarating time of self rule as a result of the revolt led by Judas Maccabeaus, the palm branch was a nationalistic symbol. It was printed on the Hasmonean coins. Those who were waving palm branches were making a political statement and expressing their hope that Jesus would free them from Roman oppression the way that Judas Maccabeaus had freed the people from the Seleucids and given them their first opportunity at self rule in over 400 years.
You put it all together and it’s no wonder Jesus started the procession with tears and at the other end marched right into the temple in a rage and turned over the tables of the moneychangers. Nobody understood who he was. They thought he was a military and political savior, ready to take on the military and political oppressor who was coming through the opposite gate. They thought their only problems were military and political ones.
They wanted a war hero, not a mother hen or a social justice advocate, and I’m not entirely sure we’re any different. Mostly we don’t want what Jesus offers. We have our own agendas, our prayer lists are long—often with detailed instructions for how God should answer them—and when God’s answer rides through the gates of our lives we are so happy at what we think we are getting that we fail to notice he is crying. I’m not sure I know what to make of it all still, but I know now more than ever that it was a complicated ride.
Lift up your heads, o ye gates and be lifted up ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in. Amen.
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