As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19: 41-44 NIV)
A guy riding into town a donkey surrounded by singing people would look out of place today. It probably looked out of place 2,000 years ago too. Imagine yourself in the scene though. You’re minding your own business when you hear the commotion. You step out into the street and see this throng of people following this dirty old rabbi into town on the back of a donkey and they’re singing “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Holy crap, King?
That’s right. The people of Jerusalem expected that the time of their deliverance was at hand. And just how were they expecting this to happen? Well, they probably thought back to the words of the prophet Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Certainly this is the passage that Jesus had in mind when he did what he did on Palm Sunday. The people crushed in around him, waving palm branches and spreading their cloaks before him. They chanted and sang to him, calling him a King. That must have been the ultimate high.
But there was something in the back of his mind, surely. He knew that he wasn’t going to live up to expectations. The author of Luke reports Jesus stopping and weeping over the city because they did not know the things that would make for peace, and they did not recognize the fact that their God was there, among them at that very moment.
Jesus was not there to toss out the Romans. He wasn’t there to restore the glory of the old way of Jewish religious life. He wasn’t there to be a glorious conquering king riding on a war horse.
He would become King that week, that was true, but he wouldn’t do it through anger, intimidation, and the spilling of his opponent’s blood but through love, service, and the shedding of his own precious blood.
It was not at all what the people expected.
So I ask you, what do you expect?
Author Craig Greenfield said today: “They used to wave palm branches, hoping for a violent revolution. Now they wave flags.”
It’s what we do isn’t it? It’s what so many of us seem to want. So many people, even people who call themselves Christians have gravitated to a candidate who promises to make us winners again, to make us great again. Others gravitate to another candidate who promises great and violent victories over our enemies as he calls for “carpet-bombing” the middle east. We wave our flags and cheer them on.
Meanwhile our infrastructure is crumbling. People take out bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Here in the world’s richest country people die everyday from basic illnesses because they have no insurance or can’t afford to use the coverage they do have. People work longer hours for less pay, often working 2-3 jobs just to put food on the table and gas in the tank. We have towering, beautifully manicured golf courses for rich people to chase a ball around while down the street sit homeless people and homeless families, many ravaged by mental illness.
Make America great again indeed. It never has been for those folks. It never has been for the victims of institutional racism. It never has been for our brothers and sisters in tribal nations stuck living in poverty on a reservation. Yet we wave our flags and expect our new leader to do great things.
Could it be that we don’t recognize the things that make for peace? Could we have missed out on a visitation from our God? After all, Christ says that as we do unto the least of us, we do to him.
Perhaps he weeps for us today.
Maybe we should change our expectations. Maybe instead of looking to a shiny, charming leader promising a win we should look to the dirty, road worn rabbi who promises us a chance to truly live as we were meant to live, in harmony with God and in service to others.
That may not sound as attractive as “winning,” but my guess is that it’s the only way we bring about the change so needed in our world.