The four Gospels are like a funnel. At the beginning the differences between them can be wide and round. But as they progress, the field narrows, until they converge in the narrow shoot known as the Passion story.
Each of the Gospels, therefore, tell of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. That is not to say that they all report the event in the same way. Yesterday we considered Mark’s unique observation that, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalam, it was already late. Today we consider Matthew’s version of events in 21:14-17
This detail does not involve Jesus’ actual entry into the city. It comes later, after Jesus has rid the temple of its pollution.
Up to this point Jesus’ nemesis—the Scribes and Pharisees—are absent. As Jesus enters the city to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, nothing is heard from the temple rulers. As Jesus clears the temple, again no protest from the religious elite. Even when Jesus welcomes the unclean into a place where the unclean should not be, the Pharisees remain silent.
It is only when the children in the temple say, “Hosanna to the Son of David” that the chief priests and the scribes become indignant. And they say to Jesus “do you hear what these [the children] are saying?” And Jesus responds from scripture, “out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has brought perfect praise.”
What are we to make of this? That of all the circumstances surrounding this event with which the chief priests should have difficulty, it is the confession of the children that concerns them the most. This suggests to me that the chief priests are well aware of a simple fact—change comes most effectively through the education of the young.
The chief priests were not too disturbed by the adults shouting hosanna. After all, by tomorrow they would be on to something else and by Thursday gone altogether. No point complaining about clearing out the temple. After all, Jesus wasn’t going to live there. They could just set it up again after he left.
But the children---totally subversive. What will happen to the status quo, the advantages of the privileged, the current distribution of power, if the young grow up with a different vision? Will it be possible to continue the exploitation of the poor, to stuff the pockets of those with connections, if a whole new generation should grow in awareness of the Kingdom of God?
The powerful and the privileged understand that the greatest threat to their social position is a younger generation with a different vision. Under those circumstances, in order to preserve their financial status, it is best to thwart the education of the young, or to infuse it with self-promoting ideology which will masquerade as “knowledge” and “objectivity”. Jesus understands differently, which is why he demanded that the children come unto him---not to simply to show his “Jesus Loves Me” kindness, but to usher in a new generation that would understand mercy and justice and human wholeness as the greatest aim of society. Jesus knew it was too late for most, but not too late for the children who still had time to learn to see the world in a whole new way.
The children of today, as well as the children of tomorrow, have the same opportunity. But the Pharisees and the chief priests are still with us. How else can we explain the pathetic role of education in public funding and the political maneuvering designed to cripple school curriculums. Palm Sunday is about more than palms and hosannas. It is about our future, our children, and whether they will be allowed to grow and be nurtured in a society concerned more with justice than with riches.