Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Palm Sunday (Revd Neville Watson) 16.3.2008
What a day it was! It was one of the most important events in the life of Jesus. Am I exaggerating? No, providing you recognise its context in the story.
The story so far Jesus lived in Palestine on the Mediterranean Sea. The geography of Palestine is quite simple. In the north is the sea of Galilee. In the south is the Dead Sea and the River Jordan connects the two. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake fed by waters from the mountain in the north of which Mt Hermon is the highest (9000 feet) and is covered with snow in the winter. Galilee is a very pleasant area surrounded by rolling hills - lots of fish and lots of people. The place where Jesus grew up was Nazareth, about 25 kilometres from the lake and he spent most of his time in and around the district of Galilee. Palestine was a country occupied by the Romans and there were insurgents everywhere. These were people who objected to their country being occupied by the Romans – as do many Iraqis who object to their country being occupied by the US. About four miles from where Jesus lived was a town called Sepphoris where two thousand insurgents were crucified. When he was about 27 years of age, Jesus became convinced that life was not being lived as God wanted it lived – both by individuals and as a society. He was impressed by a prophet called John who went around saying that the Kingdom of God – life as God wants it – was a real possibility. Jesus agreed and felt that he had a place in the bringing in of this Kingdom of God, so he got some friends together and toured the area telling people what this Kingdom was like. He was pretty successful and it wasn’t unusual for a thousand people to turn up to one of his meetings. His main thrust was that of loving God and loving others. Some became followers of his way of life and some didn’t. After three years of this, he took some of his friends up Mt Hermon and asked them who they thought he was, and Peter said that he was the long awaited liberator, the messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God to reveal God’s way of living. This for Jesus was a turning point. His friends and his followers had got the message. It was time to go to Jerusalem and confront the powers that be. His friends and followers were right against it. ‘No way, if you differ with them and threaten their power they will get rid of you. They will kill you if you talk about a different way of life, one that isn’t based on power and the sword.’ And Jesus simply said, ‘I have to do what God wants me to do.’ And so they started the long trek south, about a hundred and sixty kilometres as the crow flies, about from here to Bunbury. Six days into the trip they pass Mt Tabor and Jesus goes up the mountain with James and Peter and John, probably with a few doubts as to whether he was doing the right thing. He came down convinced and continued on the journey down the Jordan valley to Jericho then across and up to Jerusalem and to the village of Bethany, three kilometres from Jerusalem, where he stayed with his friends Martha and Mary. Bethany is on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. Palm Sunday It was Passover time – the main Jewish festival – when everyone came to Jerusalem to celebrate their deliverance from slavery and to make a sacrifice. Jerusalem was full of people It was a special day. It was the day that Pilate rode into Jerusalem from Caesarea on the coast where he lived in luxury. There were two parades that day. Through the Western gate Pilate entered on a horse accompanied by soldiers in full uniform with banners and drums and the sun glinting on the spears and shields of the cavalry and the soldiers. They hadn’t come to worship. They had come to make sure that there was no trouble as there often was at Passover time – the time when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from slavery from a previous empire. On this day at the eastern gate another procession was being prepared with Jesus telling his disciples to go and get a donkey. It was all arranged and if anyone questioned them they were to repeat the code message. ‘The Lord has need of it’. Jesus and his disciples started up the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and reached the top where the whole of Jerusalem is laid out before him. This is where he says: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only you knew the things that make for peace but you do not’. He starts the descent down the narrow winding path to the Eastern gate accompanied by a motley crowd with palm tree branches. How big the demonstration was we don’t know. What we do know is that the people in front called out ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ and the people at the back responded ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’. It was a bit like today’s demonstrations: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Freedom!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’ It must have been very noisy. Some Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: ‘Teacher, control your followers. They’re making too much noise.’ And Jesus said ‘If my disciples are silent, the stones will cry aloud.’ What did he mean by that? That the whole of creation is involved. It was an earth shattering day. That this day was of world wide importance – the disciples are expressing what is of ultimate importance. The truth will out. It cannot be silent forever. As much as the church would like to see it as such, Palm Sunday was no victory parade. It was a throwing down of the gauntlet to the powers of the day. It was the portrayal of a clear alternative. ‘The two processions embody the central conflict that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.’ (Marcus Borg) It was a confrontation with the culture of the day. This can be seen by asking, ‘To where was the procession proceeding?’ It was to the Temple and the prophetic action called ‘the cleansing of the Temple.’ Luke says it occurred on the same day. Mark says that the procession went to the Temple, Jesus assessed the situation and the cleansing occurred the next day. Either way the procession was proceeding to the Temple. What occurred there was not an attack on Judaism or Temple worship. To understand it one has to realise that the Temple was far more than just a place of worship. It had become the major financial institution of its day. It was the Central Bank of its time where loans were negotiated and all the mortgage documents were kept. This is what gives so much meaning to the words of Jesus that the house of prayer had become a den of thieves. When Jesus overturns the tables he is not primarily concerned about sacrificial worship. He is concerned with worship generally, particularly the worship of money Our society today is in some ways very different, and in some ways very similar, to the Jesus’ day. Certainly there is not the emphasis on religion that there was in those days. As the historian Manning Clark says ‘Australians once had a faith and a morality. Then they had a morality without a faith,’ Now they have neither. But that we have a thieving society is beyond doubt. The significance of the Australian Wheat Board scandal lies far deeper than a few bureaucrats and politicians in Canberra doing whatever it takes to protect our commercial interests. It reflects the society in which we live. As Frank Brennan points out. ‘It is easy for us to be critical of our government and our media. But we elect our governments and the media feeds us what we like to consume.’ When our leaders lack compassion and our media portrays violence and self centredness ‘there is every chance that they are reflecting us back’. Our society is wealthier today than it has ever been before. It is also more drug affected than ever before, the preferred drug being alcohol – with $50 million being allocated last week to try and do something about binge drinking. With money not bringing satisfaction our society seeks satisfaction in drugs. The basic problem today is our apathy and lack of concern at what is happening in our society. The basic problem we face today is that we allow the politicians and the media to tell us what is right and what is wrong; and there is nothing wrong, they say, in the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor is greater than it has ever been before, and is widening all the time. Where does Jesus stand in all of this? It cannot be otherwise than on the side of the poor. Jesus made this so very clear in his life and teachings. The rich were the constant subject of his disappointment and anger, the poor were the subject of his compassion. And so it must be for us today. Today there is no Temple. The world is the temple of God and there are some who would make it, have made it, into a den of thieves. The legal definition of theft involves the intent to permanently deprive another of what is rightfully theirs – taking what is rightfully the property of everyone and making it one’s own. The scandal of our day is the growing division between the rich and the poor. Two processions entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and we are today faced with the same question the people of Jerusalem were faced with two thousand years ago. Which procession will I join?
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands