by Ellen Sims
text: Luke 19:28-40
Some folks have a hard time recognizing satire. Some people need an irony detector. Maybe that explains why some Christians early on took the story of Jesus’s ridiculous ride into Jerusalem—intended as a mockery of imperial majesty and a demonstration of deep humility—and they transformed it into a celebration of King Jesus. Luke could have written this sketch for Saturday Night Live and here we’ve turned it into Sunday Morning Pomposity. Jesus was the anti-King. He rode in on a young colt or donkey, not a stead leading warriors home from conquest.
As John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg are emphasizing in our 9:30 class, the kingdom Jesus announced as already here but not fully, is an upside down kingdom where the first are last and the last are first. That’s why the Pharisees called on Jesus to stop the crowd’s cheers. But Jesus replied, “Even if they stopped shouting their hosannas, the very stones beneath our feet would shout out.” Which may mean the earth itself has an inherent, elemental justice.
It’s true that in the animal kingdom the stronger animals prey upon the weaker ones. But a lion doesn’t keep killing after being satiated. Tennyson said that nature is “red in tooth and claw,” but nature also aims for life, and evolution itself points us toward connection and cooperation. Even the stones of earth, Luke’s gospel said, the very stones the Empire used to construct palaces and prisons were applauding the unKing. The earth itself shouted down the injustice of an empire that built walled cities and fought wars on the backs of the poor, that desecrated the earth itself for short-sighted profit.
Let us shout today, “Blessed is the unKing who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus stands in contrast with today’s Caesars who ride into our newsfeeds, some ironically presenting themselves as coming “in the name of the Lord” but really just pandering to those who, likewise, are Christian in name only.
How do we know who’s authentically representing the upside down kin*dom on the campaign trail? Well, maybe no one is. And maybe those who serve God’s kin*dom best will never set foot in our version of Jerusalem; wouldn’t be caught dead in it, which is an unfortunate phrase to use as we commemorate the last week of Jesus’s life. But surely signs of a godly leader are humility and gentleness and compassion for the least—and not fomenters of hatred and prejudice and despoilers of the earth.
Do you know what will happen on Good Friday? We’ll witness again humility being executed. We’ll see degradation and mockery of mercy, gentleness, loving kindness. This Friday our eyes will behold once more how the least and the last are being crucified. Jesus and those he blessed were the ones executed then—and now—when vanity, greed, lies, and ruthlessness reign.
Maybe the authentic pointers to God’s kin*dom do not seek nor can they gain political power in our version of Jerusalem. But if there are Jesus followers trying to reform systems from within, we will know them by their advocacy for the refugees and the peacemakers and prisoners, the hungry and the homeless, the oceans and the creatures who inhabit them, the elderly and the children. Thus, we intentionally invited our children to lead today’s processional.
The stones and the earth itself suffer from the plunderers and profiteers. Stones stacked upon stones to expand the palaces will shout out the godliness of those who promote justice.
But those vocal stones and the poor and the peripatetic prophets seem to have little success countering Caesar’s power. At the cross death seems to have ultimate power. Until . . . as we’ll see next Sunday . . . God moves aside the one great stone Rome put in place. The stones and the Jesus followers will then refuse to comply with death-dealing empire.
Here’s the narrative that drives our faith: After horror and death. . . will come love escaping from the tomb and let loose in this world. Because the kin*dom exists beyond the stone of palace and tomb. Irony of ironies: the lowly one who satirized Rome is the ultimate conqueror— of privilege, power, and death itself.