Week of Sunday March 29 - Palm Sunday
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written.
By afternoon tea the crossing of I's and dotting of t's on even the 'motherhood' proposals, had worn me down. Crowds always drain the energy out of me. In the break a friend shared an act of church bastardy done to her. It was the end for me. My distress kept me outside for the next session. When I went home I found I could not walk properly; my right leg would not work for three days. I spent ten days in an exhausted depression, barely able to function.
I said to my ministry supervisor, and then to my oversight person as I apologised for my lack of attendance, "I leave some of my parishioners wondering if this is the last time we will see each other, and all we can do in these meetings is blind bullshit. They make me ill. They are a mockery of Church."
And so here we are again: Palm Sunday and a Synod Weekend!?? What benighted bureaucracy thought this would be a good idea? Or is it a prophetic recognition that all our parading is a posturing crowd who will fail Him?
It's hard to know what happened when Jesus came to Jerusalem. I grew up imagining a triumphant entry something like John Martin's Christmas Pageant, with crowds lining the streets. It's most unlikely that ever happened. Security was on high alert for the festival. He would have been arrested on the spot. (eg see Loader)
Then I thought maybe it was a political demonstration. It was planned— he had a donkey lined up ready. And he came from the Mount of Olives.
The Mount of Olives was, in Israel's Sacred Memory, the place from which an assault on Israel's enemies was to begin (Zech 14: 2-4). Ched Myers notes the similarity of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem with that of Simon Maccabeus (1 Mc 13:51) and Josephus' account of Menachem, a leader of the sicarii, or "knife men," as he "returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem" and prepared to do battle. (Myers, p. 294). One might have expected, then, that Jesus might storm the Temple and take it by force. (John Petty)
Here are the texts John Petty mentions:
2For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.4On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that half of the Mount shall withdraw northwards, and the other half southwards. (Zechariah 14: 2-4)
51On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. 52Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there. (1 Maccabees 13:51)
This is how Borg and Crossan imagine it.
Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class… On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus's procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire... Pilate's military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. (The First Week, Day One.)
So here we have a first century version of The Chaser marching up to the APEC forum, thumbing their nose at power, ridiculing the trappings of Empire as it walked unchallenged into perhaps the most highly secured area in Australia's history.
Or perhaps our Palm Sunday stories are Spirit inspired recollection and understanding. John says "His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written." (John 12:16) Someone realised the deeper significance of Jesus' entry into the city as they struggled to understand this dying, rising person who so inspired them, yet disrupted all their categories and expectations.
In all of these scenarios we are left with little choice. The gospels have provided us with a set piece. The roles have been decided. We are Bartimaeus, or the crowd, or the powerful.
Bartimaeus becomes a model disciple--he follows Jesus "on the way," says Petty. Bartimaeus threw off his cloak.
Bartimaeus was throwing off the "cloak" of royal and hierarchical power. Jesus had explicitly condemned such power in 10:42: "...those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them, but it is not so among you..." Bartimaeus is throwing off the way of power-striving and following "on the way" of Jesus which is opposed to hierarchical power. (Petty) [I notice that in this quote John spelt hierarchical as "heirarchical." Typo or deliberate pointed comment!?]
"But there is an additional aspect of the beggar's blindness to be considered," Ormseth tells us.
His name is Bartimaeus, which, Myers notes, "in Hebrew could mean "son of the unclean" (Myers, p. 282). In Lathrop's view, that he is named at all is itself noteworthy: as "the only recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus in the entire Gospel who is given a name at all, the name matters." Indeed, he is doubly named, as Bartimaeus can mean "son of Timaeus." And since the name is "hard to place in a Jewish context," Lathrop argues, "[w]e ought to yield the point. It is a Greek name and, in fact, one with a very specific and recognizable history. Here is the "Son" of Timaeus, Plato's Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere" (Lathrop, pp. 30-31). Dennis Ormseth (Gordon Lathrop in his Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology, (Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus. Maryknoll: Orbis Press, 1988)
Suzanne Guthrie will continue this thought for us.
But unlike the figure in the Timaeus, this blind beggar does not lament in vain. Throwing off his cloak (the "philosopher’s cloak? is it philosophy itself that is blind?) he comes to Jesus (10:50). Calling Jesus "my teacher," he asks to see. And upon receiving his sight, he follows Jesus "in the way" (10:52). What follows immediately in the book is the beginning of the Markan passion account, the enacting of Jesus' cup and the baptism of his death. The "way" that Bartimaeus follows is the way into this death, not the unperturbed and reasonable courses of the heavenly bodies. Participation in this way seems to invite us to a different sort of cosmology, a different view of the constitution of the universe and a correspondingly different estimate of the good life. (-Gordon W. Lathrop Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology p.32) Quoted by Suzanne Guthrie
In the New Testament the crowd is always an ambiguous "mob," to use the word in its Australian context. Sometimes it is all the people. Sometimes it really is a mob. Some of the crowd will shout "Cruicfy him!" But some of the crowd who are in Mark are those who are with him on the Way. What did Bartimaeus, newly seeing, think as he followed him into the city?
Did he understand that Jesus was a different king? Did he understand he was not a Jehu, (2 Kings 9: 13) for whom we take our "cloaks and spread them," anointed for violent overthrow of the tyrants.
Did he see he was the king of Zechariah 9: 9-10?
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Have we thrown off our cloaks like Bartimaeus? Are we laying down our cloaks because we see him as the King of Peace. Or are our adulations of Jesus cloaking an unrenewed theology of violence like Jehu?
I sense that on the day of crucifixion The Crowd is Everyone. The only difference between us all on the day of crucifixion is whether we march in one more parade to Golgotha, or we are the gawkers or mockers who lined the streets. Very few stayed with him at the foot of the cross, and even they were at "a distance." (Mark 15:40)
Each Sunday in my congregation, we pray in our Litany for the world
We pray for ourselves...
who are numbered among the powerful and the rich of the world.
Call us to your right ways.
Call us to justice and goodness.
Call us to humility and peace…
We recognise we are not so much the uninformed crowd of Jerusalem, as those who know the shape of the world and do too little for justice and peace.
In our Confessions we pray
We have not been the people
we could have been this week.
We have not done things we should have done—
sometimes it was all beyond us…
We did things we knew we should not do.
We spoke when we should have been silent,
and we thought worse things.
We didn't love our neighbours as ourselves.
We let them down.
We let ourselves down.
We let you down, O God.
And sometimes we didn't care.
Sometimes we didn't even notice…
In our messy every-day, we are Bartimaeus who threw off his cloak, for we have followed on the Way. And we are in the crowd who honestly welcome the King of Peace, even as our less than best selves may wish violent retribution upon the rich and powerful. But we are also those who join the mob, and... sometimes we lead the parade.
And this Palm Sunday?
My statement to my supervisor has been unpleasantly prophetic. My joys are "long-shadowed" by a growing weariness which has become frightening. I wish I could leave the parade but, of course, no one can. There is only a prayer.
Jesus rain on my parade.
Water my world weariness, and
wash off my anxiety.
Dampen my thoughtless enthusiasms;
drown my proud pieties;
make a river between me
and worldly success.
Jesus rain heavy on my parade
so I may rest
in the safety of deep waters.
Disturb the pool to which I have been sent
so old hurts may heal, and
weariness be lifted.
Jesus reign in my parade—
Let there be no drought.
May the stream rise from the earth
and the sky open at the rainbow
even as clouds come over
the whole land.
Jesus rain on my parade.
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