Rev. Sarah Buteux

April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday, Year C

Luke 19:28-44

(To watch this morning’s service click here. The sermon begins at the 30 minute mark.)

Andrew and I met 28 years ago this past week, and we have been together ever since. You don’t last that long as a couple without developing both a sense of humor about each other’s deficiencies and creative ways to call them out. 

And one of the greatest deficiencies we each bring to this marriage is our inability to give each other our full attention. It’s hard to imagine, I know, but it’s true. 

So, one of the more common refrains you will hear in our house is the phrase: “… so I ordered one in green and they said they’ll deliver it on Thursday.” 

Because, you see, if you’re paying attention enough to begin to wonder – wait, what’s been ordered in green and is being delivered on Thursday? – well, then all of a sudden you’re paying attention enough to know that you haven’t really been paying attention at all. 

At which point the offender will say, “I’m sorry, Honey, what was that you just said?” and the two of us can get back to having a real conversation. 

Well, I don’t know what phrases Jesus might have uttered when he suspected people weren’t giving him their full attention or if he ever called anyone “Honey,” but it’s pretty clear that even those of us who claim to follow him aren’t always paying attention to what he just said. 

Case in point – our reading for Palm Sunday which begins with these words: “After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” 

Without peeking, does anyone have any idea what Jesus just said? Well, if you turn back to the gospel of Luke, you realize that Jesus has just told the “Parable of the… Ten Minas” or the “Parable of the Pounds.” Is anyone familiar with that one? Probably not. I mean if you are, you’re a nerd, I mean, an amazing Bible scholar. And if you’re not, please don’t feel bad. The truth is, I didn’t even remember this parable until I started looking deeper into the scriptures for today, in large part because we never read it in church. 

It’s not part of the lectionary, so it almost never comes up.  Which is good… because it’s horrible.

It’s kind of like the parable of the talents from the gospel of Matthew – which is already pretty disturbing – only like 10 times worse. 

Comparing the two is kind of like comparing “the West Wing” to “House of Cards”- or “Spam-a-lot” to “Game of Thrones,” or Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” – (has anyone seen it… on netflix?) – comparing Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” to Zelensky in real life, serving his people.  

It’s nasty, grim, and incredibly violent.

You may remember that in the parable of the talents, as told by Matthew, a landowner goes away on a trip after entrusting 5 talents to his most competent slave, 2 talents to his mostly competent slave, and 1 talent to his least competent slave. When he returns the first and second slave have doubled his money and the master is pleased. 

The third slave, however, was so scared that he hid his money in the ground. Even though he returns it, the master is furious with him for not even trying to multiply it and has him cast out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yeah, and like I said, Matthew’s version is the kinder, gentler one.

The moral of both parables is roughly the same: “to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” 

Luke, however, recasts the landowner as a nobleman, a nobleman who sets off to a distant country in search of permission from even greater powers to come back and rule his people. 

However, this nobleman is so unpopular in his own country that a delegation follows him to try and block his power play. Before he leaves he bequeaths 10 gold minas to 10 of his slaves and their story plays out roughly the same as it does in Matthew. 

Only when he returns, the one slave who admits he was afraid to risk his mina puts the new king in such a foul mood that he has the entire delegation that tried to stop his coronation brought into his presence and…. wait for it…executed. 

“But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence” (19:27).

Seriously: that’s the story Jesus tells right before he walks into Jerusalem: a story about how futile it is to try and wrest power from violent men by appealing to even more powerful and violent men for help.  And frankly I’m glad it’s not in the lectionary because I don’t know how I’d handle this parable in a children’s sermon.

In Matthew we are given to understand that the parable tells us something about the kingdom of God. Like so much of Matthew, we are encouraged to take a down-to-earth story about a landowner and his slaves and extrapolate till we find a more spiritual meaning. 

We’re encouraged to wonder if the landowner represents God or Jesus, whether or not we are the slaves in this story, or what those talents really represent. 

Luke’s gospel, however, is a very different gospel. Whereas Matthew’s Jesus says things like, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” Luke’s Jesus merely says, “blessed are the poor.” Matthew’s Jesus blesses people for being hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Luke’s Jesus simply blesses people who are hungry. 

So when Luke’s Jesus talks about a nobleman who went off in search of power, it should come as no surprise that he’s not talking about how things will play out in the kingdom of God, he’s actually talking about how things work in the kingdoms of this world. This parable he tells isn’t even a thinly veiled allusion to how people in power behave. This “parable” is literally yesterday’s news. 

Turns out, Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born, was survived by 3 sons: Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip, all of whom went to Rome in hopes of being made the next King of the Jews. According to the historian Josephus, a delegation of fifty Jews went in protest, not wanting any of Herod’s offspring to rule over them. 

Well, this delegation was unsuccessful, to say the least. After the Romans decided to divide the kingdom amongst the three brothers, Archelaus – who became ruler over Jerusalem -had the fifty hunted down and … anyone want to take a guess?…slaughtered. [1] 

And that was just the beginning. Soon after taking power, Herod Archelaus sent his soldiers into Jerusalem to keep the peace during the Passover. When some of the Jewish people threw rocks at them, Archelaus sent in a thousand more troops and massacred 3000 of his own people.  With friends like that, who needs enemies, right? But the Jewish people had plenty of those too. 

They didn’t just have to live under Herod Archelaus, they had to live under the heel of Rome, and like the young king, Rome wasn’t about to take any chances. They knew full well what the passover meant to the Jewish people. 

They knew that people celebrating their deliverance from one oppressive regime might well get it in their heads to try and deliver themselves yet again. 

So Rome came down equally hard on the people. They sent reinforcements to Jerusalem every year, reinforcements who would crucify Jewish pilgrims along the way as a pre-emptive warning to anyone who was even considering causing trouble in the city. 

Which is what has brought Pontius Pilate himself, with a full legion of peace-keepers at his command, down to Jerusalem. In fact, Pilate would have been entering from the far side of the city right about the time Jesus was finishing his tale of “The Ten Minas” up there on the Mt. of Olives.  

So let’s pause now and really pay attention to Jesus in that moment. Jesus, this itinerant preacher from Nowheresville, is telling all the pilgrims around him- all the pilgrims who have been accumulating over the last few weeks drawn to his deeds of wonder and power, all the pilgrims who are convinced that Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem as the messiah, kick some Roman booty, and usher in the kingdom of God –  that:

“to all those who have, (Herod, Pilate, Caesar) more will be given; 

but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

This has got to be the worst pep talk in history… because Jesus…well…just look at him. He is about to enter Jerusalem with nothing and lose everything. 

He is sitting on a donkey, not a warhorse. 

He is surrounded by peasants, not soldiers, a multitude holding palms not swords.

He is the messiah with no pomp[2], the king of no circumstance, a hen riding down into the fox house of Herod. 

His is the voice of risk and revolution. 

But Jesus’ revolution is not one where you get up and fight. 

He’s preaching a sort of reverse revolution where you lay down and die.

Jesus is playing to lose here. I think he’s made himself perfectly clear. 

I’m just not sure that anyone was paying attention.  

It’s as if they totally missed what he just said. 

And I understand why.

I understand, because expectations are powerful things, so powerful that they can easily blind you to the reality right in front of you. These folks believe Jesus is the messiah, their long awaited liberating king. And if there’s one thing they know for sure about the messiah, their long awaited liberating king, it’s that when he shows up he’s going to liberate them…big time. 

Failure was not an option, because you see, a beaten messiah was no messiah. A crucified messiah was no messiah. 

A dead messiah was no messiah. 

It’s like rule #1 in the messiah handbook. 

The messiah will triumph over the bad guys, not get trampled by them. 

So however impossible the odds may seem as they make their way down the hill, however contrary a military takeover would be to everything Jesus has been preaching for the last 3 years, these pilgrims don’t just follow Jesus down into Jerusalem, they march out ahead of him the better to lay their coats on the ground as he passes by. 

“Blessed is the King,” they cry, “the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” They earnestly believe this man can save them, and the sad irony is that he can, and he will. Just not in the way they expect. And in all fairness to the Israelites, not in the way we expect either.  

Because you see, just like them, we all want a better world, a world that is safe for people like us and safe for the people who like us. I look at the pictures coming out of Ukraine, day after day, and I want that better world now more than ever. But a better world is not going to come the moment we take out all the bad people who aren’t like us and don’t like us.

A better world – what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God – is not what we get when we finally have the knowledge and the power to crush those who oppose us, exploit those who would take advantage of us, or wreck vengeance on those who have hurt us. 

The kingdom, at least the one Jesus is taking about, will only come when we finally make the courageous decision to just stop hating and hurting and oppressing one another at all. 

It will come when we choose the way Jesus did, the way of self-sacrifice over self-protection, the way of restoration over retribution, the way strewn with palms not swords. 

The way of the cross. 

That’s the message Jesus himself is heading into Jerusalem to deliver, knowing even as he does that he can’t just make it happen for us any more than any King, messiah, or leader ever has or ever will. 

All he can do is show us the way and pray that we find the courage to follow.

And so he rides on, whether the people at his side really understand him or not. 

He rides on and as he draws near to Jerusalem he begins to weep for her. 

“If only you knew the things that make for peace,” he says. 

He weeps for them as I have no doubt he weeps for us even still. 

Because the truth is that we do know. 

We know because he told us.   

It’s just so hard to believe that’s what he really said.  Amen

 

[1] See “Jesus for President” Claiborne, p 78 & “Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke” Fred Craddock, p 221

[2] I got this great phrase from Alyce Mackenize, http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013