Lenten Meditation: March 26
It is the Friday before Palm Sunday. We have been looking at the story of Jesus triumphal entry as it appears in each of the four gospels. First we considered Mark’s rendition which ends with Jesus observing the scene in Jerusalem but retreating to the Mount of Olives. Matthew adds an interesting detail about the Pharisees objecting to the sound of the children hailing Jesus as the Son of David. Today we are looking at Luke’s unique telling of this scene.
The passage begins with the familiar task given the disciples to attain a ride for Jesus. Luke tells us that a donkey is acquired, heartening back to the words of the prophet Zechariah: Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.
Such entry processions were common in the ancient world. The conqueror would ride into the city in great fanfare and pomp to announce his annexation of the people. We still see this after a fashion in the parades of celebration for sports champions.
But this entrance is ironic and tragic. While Jesus is indeed the King, he is not the King of political realm. He is the ambassador of God but he does not bring word of a crushing defeat of the people’s enemies. His donkey is not a regal horse.
What Luke provides that the other evangelists do not is that Jesus does not quite enter Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Jesus came near the city, he wept over it, saying “if you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” He goes on to lament what would indeed come to pass in AD 70...the complete destruction of the city by the Romans, all because “you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
I find Luke to be the most literary of the gospels and this is an excellent example of his poignancy. Jesus’ lament also provides an important insight into what is to come over the next week—his conflict with the Pharisees—his arrest, death and burial. None of it was necessary.
It has been a central tenant of the Christian faith from the beginning that the death of Jesus on the cross reconciles humans to God. Our sin, orthodoxy says, first brought about by Adam, is erased in the cross and we are forgiven. And so it is,
But Jesus’ lament reminds us that there was another way, a way that Jesus’ weeps over. That was the way of repentance while God was still in the midst of his “visitation”. Jesus showed through word and deed the things that make for peace and time and time again he was rejected. Even the disciples did not embrace these ways, choosing to save their own skins at the end. Time and time again Jesus gave the powerful the opportunity to see not just another way but the way of God—the way the Scribes and the Pharisees should have been the leading champions.
But it was not to be. The people did not see—were blind—to the ways that make for peace. The angels told the shepherds that a savior had been born to them—that God has visited them. They marveled and went their way as did all who saw Jesus—with a few unexpected exceptions.
But those who could work for change. The powerful, the elite, the wealthy—they cared more for their own status and position and whether they saw Jesus as King or not they knew he had to go. And go he did. But not before weeping openly at the truth that the pain, the suffering, the death, could all have been avoided if men had chosen mercy over law and peace over power.