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Today’s text is one that’s well known and yet the question remains: have we really encountered it, or do we skim the surface? What kind of a God are we looking for? Is he or she to fit into our life, or does the Divine Presence change everything about us and what we know? Who is Jesus and how is he connected to and with that Divine Presence?
Jesus came into Jerusalem that day in a calculated and intentional way. We know from the ancient writings of Josephus, that the Israelites of that day believed and expected the Messiah to begin the revolutionary war to overthrow the Romans from the Mount of Olives. Jesus leaves from their at the beginning of the story, as a way to say “Yoo-hoo! Here I am!”
The center of today’s reading is the question asked by the entire city in v. 10 “Who is this?” The text is populated with diverse answers, different titles that identify Jesus, as well as citations from the First Testament put into the mouths of the crowd and the narrator, as the promised Messiah King come to change the world, free Israel and right all of the injustices of the world.
Yet the paradox of this story is that this ultimate King comes to liberate his captive people in intentional modesty, strategic peace, declaring nonviolence. He rides a donkey – which confirms prophetic scriptures, but also is a radical and radically weird proclamation. A donkey is a common animal, a beast of burden. A king rides a mighty stallion, not a lowly donkey owned by the poor to help them with their work. A king rides a mighty stallion, a war animal, not a slow, stubborn work animal that pulls a plough, never leads a crowd. A king should have the finest horse – or mode of transportation – yet this king travels in a truly human – truly normal – way, at the level of the basic person. Jesus comes into the capital city, as was expected of the Messiah King to come, but doesn’t come how he was supposed to. He comes triumphant and victorious to the adulating crowds, but he also comes righteous and saving, clearly proclaiming what God actually wants for the people, the city and the world: justice. nonviolence. peace. equality. righteousness. a different kind of kingdom and governmental reign.
The crowds cry out “Hosanna” – in Hebrew the word means “God saves” – a proclamation and an entreaty. God has come to save them – yet God has come as both he divine Messiah King and the modest human donkey-riding God-with-us. Is it any wonder that the crowds that accompanied him from the Mount of Olives into the city that day, so quickly left, looking for a different kind of leader?
Jerusalem quakes at his arrival and his exuberant yet nonviolent stand for justice for all. This prophet comes into the temple – the center of Jewish worship, and thus that center of Jewish identity, social structure, ethical frameworks, political hierarchy – the entire worldview – and he demands justice. He overturns the tables in the Temple – the outer courtyard, the courtyard of the Gentiles, to which the most people could penetrate in the edifice and where at that time money changers were installed. One needed money to purchase animals for sacrifice in the inner temple. Yet no foreign money (i.e. Roman) was allowed in the Temple complex, because it contained a graven image, that of the Emperor, who thought of himself as a god. So secular money had to be changed to “sacred” or religiously acceptable money. Jesus rebukes, retorts and casts out what has become a commercialized religion in the place of authentic real spirituality. Matthew inserts several quotes from the great prophets of old into the story to accentuate the prophetic nature of Jesus’ actions and words.
Yet in his righteous indignation and strong stand for justice he is nonviolent, hurting no person, rearranging the furniture, not destroying the livelihood of others. He is truly love and justice. He acts decisively. Powerfully. Authentically. Without hypocrisy. He speaks and stands to change the reputation of God’s house, from one of commercialized for-profit self-centered religion, to one that seeks the well-being of all, the health of all peoples from all nations and ethnicities, the liberation known in the worship of the true God, the Lord of the Exodus.
Question for Going Deeper: