Jesus confronts those who oppose God’s reign in the world.
In yesterday’s study, we saw that a prophet risks rejection by others. As you are hearing and reading today’s offering, it is Maundy Thursday. The arrest and trial of Jesus draw ever closer once again. Let’s look at the events of that first Holy Week and see what, according to the Gospel of Matthew, prompts the rejection of God’s prophet.
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ! “Hosanna to the Son of David! ! ! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! ! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them (Matthew 21:6-14).
The crowds first mentioned in the passage are the people following Jesus.
• They recognize his authority by spreading their cloaks on the road and following an earlier Jewish celebratory tradition of cutting branches and spreading them before him.
• But the people in Jerusalem are in turmoil with Jesus’ noisy entry – they don’t really know him and have to ask his identity.
• “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” comes the response. Jesus enters Jerusalem in a way that serves as embodied, prophetic action: it is orchestrated street theater, highlighting the themes of Jesus’ mission and ministry.
• His procession into Jerusalem parodies the Greco-Roman ritual of the triumphal procession into a city by the latest conquering imperial hero.
• So, too, his entry into Jerusalem evokes in the Jewish people the image of Zechariah 9:9: Israel’s triumphant and victorious king rides into Jerusalem humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
• Jesus rides into Jerusalem proclaiming God’s reign that, unlike Rome’s, is not based on violence and does not rely on social, political and economic oppression.
• Jesus does not reject the laudatory title “son of David” bestowed on him, thereby leaving people with the impression that he claims his status as the long-awaited new king in the line of the great King David, revered by Israel as a great healer.
As all four gospels tell us, Jerusalem has a reputation for killing God’s prophets. Jesus’ confrontation with the ruling powers has begun in earnest. In the Temple, Jesus continues with part two of his embodied, prophetic action.
• By driving out people and turning over the tables of the money changers, Jesus disrupts the entire sacrificial system of the Temple that exploits the poor even in this sacred place of worship and sacrifice.
• This action by Jesus embodies God’s judgment of the Temple, a judgment that will be completed a few decades later in the year 70 CE, when Roman forces destroythe Temple and all of Jerusalem while crushing the Jewish Revolt.
• By healing those who are outcasts, and otherwise unwelcome in the Temple, Jesus also embodies what God does will for God’s people: inclusion and forgiveness for everyone. With this entry into Jerusalem, Jesus confronts the religious and political elites who are ruling authorities. His courageous, embodied prophecy seals his fate.
Questions for Reflection
• Who are those in your world who risk rejection by religious or political authorities to proclaim what they believe to be God’s will for the world?
• Do these people inspire or frighten you? Why?
Almighty God, who gave to your prophetic Son Jesus the boldness to proclaim and embody your will before the rulers of this world, and the courage to be arrested and die for his faith: Grant that we may always be ready to proclaim your reign in the world and to be rejected and suffer gladly as your prophet; this we pray in the name of your Son and prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Adapted from the BCP, pp. 246-47).