September 17, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 19:28-40.
After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives he sent two of his disciples. He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one else has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.'” So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” They answered, “The Master has need of it.” So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”
It’s interesting thinking about the many times I’ve heard this reading at Mass in the weeks leading up to Good Friday. I’ve missed the details that Luke is so fond of including in his gospel. What strikes me today is that this multitude of people were his disciples — people who had been following him around the countryside, listening to his teachings, witnessing his miracles. They saw him, though, through the lens of their own expectations as the messiah who would rescue them from the yoke of their oppressors. These were people who had heard the word and were eager for change, were eager for the kingdom of God to reign over them. Or so they thought.
Luke was the only gospel writer to use the title of king for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. Luke drew the disciples’ acclamation from Psalm 128, a hymn of thanksgiving: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” which, of course, we proclaim at Mass. We are hungry for leadership, eager to king him or her with the crown of our expectations and hopes. However, Jesus aims to transform my expectations and hopes. It’s not the glory and splendor of God’s eternal kingdom in heaven that he wants me to pin my hopes on. He wants me to get down to the business of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. I try to make that hard, serious work instead of joyfully embracing the good news that Jesus brought from His Father. I want someone else to do it. That’s why I want to anoint a king, a leader who will lead all of us into the promised land of God’s kingdom.
I don’t think it works that way. He wants us to anoint him as king in our hearts. Jesus wants his humble, faithful followers to bring about the kingdom in our own hearts first and then among those in our lives. So, if that’s true, why did Jesus carefully plan his entry into Jerusalem this way, knowing that his disciples would proclaim him king, messiah? Because, as always, Jesus wanted to turn things upside down, in this case how people perceived a king. His entry into Jerusalem was in the manner prophesied by Zechariah in chapter 9: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” So, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, humble and meek. He came not with armed followers; he came equipped only with the power of God’s love to overcome fear, power, and violence. He came to save us from ourselves, to save us for God’s kingdom.
Am I ready for that? Am I prepared to put aside my desire for control, for power? To do my will instead of God’s? Am I ready to be ridiculed for my beliefs, to be rejected and shunned because I am meek and humble? To be a servant? That’s not the manly way, that’s not the profile of success. But those are the characteristics of kingship in the kingdom. The crowd of disciples didn’t get it, though. And neither do we, neither do I. I want something else. I want to be loved by God, but I don’t want to love like God, not really. I want my way, not someone’s else’s. I want to be king, not servant. I want to enter Jerusalem in a beautiful sports car, dressed in the finest clothes, indulging in the choicest foods and wines. I don’t want to embrace the leper. I don’t want to sell all I have and give it to the poor. I don’t want to be the king that Jesus was modeling when he entered Jerusalem. I want to be like the crowd who praised him for his miraculous deeds, who saw in him the power of God, who wanted him to right all wrongs, who wanted the glory but not the suffering. I’d rather be his cheerleader than his instrument. Like I said, I try to make this too darn hard. It takes trust and courage to be a follower. That’s what Jesus showed me in his life. I say that’s what I want, but I shy from suffering and death. It’s hard for me to embrace some days and I guess this is one of them.