Palm Sunday April 17, 2011: Jesus Keeps a Journal
Today, Palm Sunday, we start our final approach to Easter. It would be wonderful if we could go from waving our palms to singing Alleluia among the lilies and tulips next Sunday. But obviously we can’t do that. We walk with Jesus through this tumultuous week that leads to a lonely hill and a lonelier tomb.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus had kept a journal? I have no idea if Jesus ever did such a thing, but it sure would be useful to us. The closest we have to a daily account of the events of Holy Week is in the gospel of Mark. We see a Jesus who is very human. He gets angry, he gets sad, he eats a special dinner with his friends, he argues, he gets betrayed and abandoned by his friends. We also see a God who rises from the dead.
Let’s listen in as Jesus writes his journal during this most Holy of all weeks:
I feel like I can hardly even put the events of this day in writing. The Romans could smell trouble brewing as thousands of Jews began their annual Passover visit to Jerusalem. We may have escaped from Pharoah, but Rome is the new pharaoh. They don’t call it slavery, but that is what it is. The Romans fear revolt and social unrest more than anything else. They pretend to give us a little freedom and we pretend it’s enough.
Pilate rode into Jerusalem from his capital at Caesarea. A cohort of imperial cavalry makes for great crowd control, and reinforces the garrison stationed here. Flashing swords, impressive stallions, full battle dress…it makes for an impressive sight. The crowds lined the streets to see the parade of power, but they weren’t cheering.
I orchestrated a different kind of parade. I remember that Zechariah wrote that the people’s king would come riding on a donkey, humbly. So I sent the disciple to find one. People threw coats on the ground as I passed and some people got excited and waved palms. They were mostly poor people who came to see my parade. It was very humbling. I fear that I am not the Messiah they are looking for, though…
The day slipped by and before dark I went to the Temple and looked around. What needs to be done there will have to wait for tomorrow.
Our group spent Sunday night with our friends in Bethany. They were so brave to have us in their house…it has gotten so dangerous to even be associated with me. Then we got up early because I needed to be about my Father’s business. And really, my Father’s House needed a good housecleaning. I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew and I revere my faith. But the Temple and the sacrifice system has become corrupted and they have made of it a marketplace. I turned over tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling the sacrificial doves. I don’t know what came over me but it needed to be done.
When I cleansed the Temple, I sent a signal that I was taking back my Father’s House. I suppose I have signed my own death warrant. They fear the crowds and the crowd listened to me today. They must be hungry for a different message than the one they’ve been hearing. The coming of God’s Kingdom means good news for the poor not lining the pockets of the rich. We must bear the fruit of compassion, love, and justice. Do they not have ears to hear and eyes to see that the kingdom of God is at hand? And the Kingdom of God requires a different kind of King than does the kingdom of Caesar.
This was a very busy day. Everywhere I went there were groups of scribes and Pharisees who wanted to debate me, test me, prove me unworthy. We engaged in that silly debate about the widow who married the seven brothers and whose wife would she be in the resurrection? Who cares about such trivial things? Question after question and argument after argument– None of which will bring about the Kingdom one minute sooner. If they could hear how they sounded…and see how they trivialize God’s Holy Word.
At the end of the day , I watched as people were putting their offerings into the boxes outside the Temple. The rich were making a big show of how much they placed in the boxes. The brass offering bowls rang like bells when they threw in their offerings. Every body would look around to see who the rich person was…all for effect. Then a poor widow put in two copper coins…all she had. It hardly made a sound. They gave out of their abundance while she gave everything she had. She is bearing fruit for the Kingdom that is coming…she is last now,but later she will be first in the kingdom. Father, please look after her and give her comfort and courage. Amen
An extraordinary thing happened today…I hardly have the words to write about it. We were at dinner in Bethany, this time at Simon’s house. As we sat around the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of fragrant nard. She poured the ointment over my head. The fragrance filled the whole room, so beautiful and costly.
I think she was anointing me for my burial. But it was as if she knew there would be no body after my death and so she anointed me before my death. Alone of all my disciples and followers, she heard and believed me when I said that I would die and be resurrected. She poured herself out for me as I will pour myself out for my disciples. She will be remembered for her extravagant act. I will remember her when I come into my kingdom.
I scribble this quickly before dinner tonight. This will be a Passover like none other. I have sent my disciples out to prepare for the dinner, for it must happen according to scripture, just as my entry on Sunday had to happen as Zechariah had prophesied. We will eat a meal and I will share my thoughts and prayers with those who are closest to me. I plan to explain to them how the bread and cup will now be the new Passover meal. We will eat and drink tonight, and in the kingdom that is to come. There will be a new relationship between God and humans, mediated by my blood.
But I fear that first there will be betrayal and abandonment. Maybe I have asked too much of my friends. I can see their faces so clearly and hear their laughter and good naturedjesting. What wonderful companions they have been. They are just ordinary people that are being asked to do an extraordinary thing—to follow me. May God be with us all. Give me courage, because I fear Judas has already betrayed me…God be merciful to him.
Jesus’ journal ends there. The next time he speaks it will be in response to Pontius Pilate as he seals his fate. But one thing is clear from this journal. Jesus was in charge of this week from start to finish. Jesus has the authority to talk about God because he is the Son of God. And only the Son of God could save the world from the state it’s in.
We follow a savior who knew that the world does not change from the top down, but from the bottom up. Six days to Friday, Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and turned the world upside down. When we choose Jesus, we choose the way of life that looks fragile, not very safe, and even foolish. As the Apostle Paul said, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the very power of God.
For many of the insights about Holy Week I relied on the wonderful book by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, The Last Week: a Day by Day account of the Final Week of Jesus’ life. They do an excellent job of portraying Mark’s account of this final week, which is surprisingly complete.