Palm Sunday

 The procession into Jerusalem From the donkey's point of view

The French word for donkey is ane…or anon if you mean a young donkey. I have to think what it means to be anon-ymous. Is it an ano-mal-y? Donkeys, we think, are ignorant, obstinate, lazy, even wicked….they don’t have a good reputation…If our chosen horse does not win that race, we say he is a donkey. What do donkeys think about us? What about our ass-emblies?

When fishes flew and forests walked
         And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
         Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head, and sickening cry
          And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
          On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
          Of ancient crooked will,
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
         I keep my secret still.
- G.K. Chesterton

Jesus does not ride on a horse or chariot… Pilate did. God is simple, God is lowly.
Jesus is not into war, with state or religion. Jesus brings peace. In unseen ways.

There is the biblical story of Balaam’s ass. Balaam is a diviner, what he speaks happens. He is asked to speak a curse on Israel…no, then yes, all right…he saddles his ass to go and do it, and she won’t budge…Then, beaten, she asks (speaking vocally) ‘why are you treating me like this? I never did wrong by you….’

When the disciples go to get the donkey, they say ‘The Lord has need of it’. [We pray, usually, when we have need of the Lord…when perhaps the Lord has need of donkeys like us.] Why does the Lord need the donkey? He needs it to enter Jerusalem, the place of the plenitude, the city of Shalom, of peace. The donkey will not disturb anyone there.

DonkeyWhat did the donkey see there? People laying their clothes on the ground for the donkey to walk on…cutting branches and forming them into an arch for the donkey to walk under… Was it like an ark – like Noah’s ark – it is said there were animals there? The donkey knew of other animals where Jesus was going….an elephant in the court room, perhaps, or in the palace of Pilate? The donkey heard people singing Hosannah, save us….Were they actually saying that to the donkey?

Once Jesus got into Jerusalem, he told the disciples to let the donkey go…to do what it wanted ….to do what donkeys do… Jesus said so: let it go….It can’t be so bad to act like a donkey…. Did the donkey stand for dimensions of our selves we don’t like, and would want to punish and control and train and get rid of – and Jesus says, no, let them be? Jesus wasn’t into perfection. His church is an ass-ociation.

Once in Jerusalem, the people reject Jesus, they are at best indifferent to him. Jesus ends up back at the Mount of Olives where all this started. It doesn’t add up. The crowd was all fire and flame on the Sunday, but by Friday they were singing ‘Hosanna to Barabb-ass, save us!’ The crowd wanted someone to make them happy, but didn’t care who. They didn’t know he was there. The donkey knew.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
          One far fierce hour and sweet;

There was a shout about my ears,
          And palms beneath my feet.
- G.K Chesterton

Palm Sunday

the reading of the gospel of the Passion Today we listen to the long reading of the Passion Narrative of Luke’s gospel. It differs from the narrative in Mark, and in Matthew – and it adds fresh materials not found in Mark and Matthew (or John, for that matter). It is the passion of an INNOCENT HUMAN BEING.

Pilate declares three times that there is nothing worthy of death in what has been brought up to him against Jesus. Jesus is innocent.

One new piece is the story of Jesus’ trial before Herod Antipas. When Pilate learns that Jesus is a Galilean, and knows that Herod is in town, he refers Jesus to Herod. It is quite plausible that this is historical, that Herod really was in Jerusalem for the high holiday. But the point that Luke is making in this scene, is that Herod declares Jesus to be innocent. Luke is at pains to state and restate the innocence of Jesus. Luke is the only gospel that tells us of Pilate’s assertion and public declaration of the innocence of Jesus – he has legally found him to be so. Luke alone says that Pilate and Antipas acted together in the declaration of Jesus’ innocence. Luke alone suggests that there had been an antipathy – now healed - between Antipas and Jesus. In this way, Luke is building up his case for the innocence of Jesus: it is a massive theme in Luke, and in this gospel a whole chorus of people declare it.

In Lk, the Roman soldiers at the death of Jesus are relatively uninvolved: in effect, Luke says that it was the Jews who executed Jesus, not the Romans. [Historically, it is certain it was the Romans.] There is no scourging of Jesus. The guilt of it all is assigned to the Jews. The leader of the execution squad on Calvary (who in Mark and Matthew said that Jesus was the son of God) says that this man is innocent or righteous – the Greek term is dikaios – a just man, by Roman law. He is innocent, not guilty of any charges.

In Mark and Matthew, the thieves crucified with Jesus insult him. In Luke, one of them insults him, but the other declares him innocent.

Luke is writing mostly for educated, Greek-cultured believers in Jesus, and is at pains to present a Jesus who is thoroughly orthodox in terms of Greek/Roman law. He does the same in Acts, about Paul. He makes a case that Jesus, the early Christians, Paul, and those of his own day, are no political threat to Rome.

Luke’s Jesus is serene in the face of death. He dies like a martyr, a prophet, as an exemplar of how to die. Luke does not have the ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ of Mark and Matthew. He – instead – has Jesus asking his Father to forgive those involved in the crucifixion, for they know not what they do. This fulfils his own command (Luke 6) to pray for your persecutors. Are they, in his mind, innocent too? The prayer for forgiveness begins with the word Father, like the Our Father itself.

Luke is not interested in a theology of atonement, and in that sense, avoids a theology of the cross. The language of ransom (Greek lytron) is not in his gospel. Nor is the idea of salvation from sin, or of us being saved from our sins by Jesus’ death. His emphasis is different. It is on the way God has vindicated Jesus in and by resurrection. [There is perhaps an inkling of something like the atonement way of thinking in Acts, in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversation with Philip about Isaiah 53, but it is not a primary emphasis, even there.]

In contrast Luke has the fullest resurrection story of the synoptic gospels, and extended accounts of the appearances of the risen One. Where Mark and Matthew had these appearances in Galilee, Luke stresses that Jesus appeared in Jerusalem. He alone has the brilliant story of Jesus with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, near Jerusalem. In Acts, he will dramatise the origins and development of the whole Christian movement, starting from Jerusalem, at the Pentecost there.