Glory to God As Far as One Can Go!
And so, that was when he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, opposite the Mount known for its Olives. And he sent two of his disciples, saying to them,
“Go into the village opposite, and upon entering you will find a colt tied up, on which no man has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. And if any one asks you why you are untying it you are to say, ‘This is because the Master has need of it.’”
And they led it to Jesus and then, putting their garments on the colt they helped Jesus to mount it. And they spread their garments on the path as they went on their way. And as they came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the multitude of disciples that had gathered together rejoiced, praising God with a loud [combined] voice about all the mighty [and wonderful] deeds they had witnessed saying,
“Blessed is the One who is coming, the one to be King coming in the Name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and [may this] glory [make itself known] in the highest places!”
And some of the Pharisees, in the [midst of the] crowd said,
“Teacher [should you not now] constrain your disciples [and disciple them]?”
And he answered them with these words:
“Even if these should be silent the stones [themselves] would cry out!”
And drawing near the city, seeing it, he wept over it saying,
“If [only] on this day you had known what [conditions] would bring you peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Because the days will [surely] come upon you when your enemies shall embed themselves in a trench surrounding you and pressing in upon you from all sides. And they shall bring you down, you and and your children, and they will not leave one stone upon another stone within you, because you did not reckon with the time of your visitation.”
And entering the temple, he began to throw out those selling [their wares] there saying to them,
“My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.”
And he was teaching day by day in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes were seeking to destroy him with [the assistance of] the prominent officials from among the people. But they could not easily find an opportunity to do so because all the people were eagerly attentive to his teaching.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was well-planned. Luke gives brief emphasis to this since he knows, and Theophilus knew, that the account now comes to the point to describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where plans were already afoot to have him put down, tried and executed. Luke is assuming that we readers, in contrast to what he tells us about the disciples at that time, know full well what Jesus was talking about when he told them what was in store for him. These had been “eyewitnesses of these events”, those commissioned to take this Gospel, and they are on their way to Jerusalem having no sense of what was to take place, and possibly not understanding the depth of angry, bitter opposition that was mounting against their Rabbi, the One they were praising as David’s Son.
So Luke tells us that an owner of a donkey and its colt were part of the plans Jesus had put in place for his entry to Jerusalem. Luke himself, it would seem, is only vaguely aware of the details but he did know that the disciples were sent, that the message they were given by Jesus would confirm to the colt’s owner that they were who they said they were. (A similar arrangement was put in place when preparing for the Passover meal see 22: 9-13). So we detect Luke’s awareness of the careful planning and also the need for secrecy. And we are reminded once more, at the conclusion of his account of Jesus’ initial impact at the temple, after his arrival. The chief priests and the scribes were determined to put an end to this man and his teaching.
As we have suggested previously, it was on this occasion that Jesus’ talents as song-writer, and even as cantor, were on display (see “Get Going” above Luke 13:34-35).
It’s seems likely that Herod had finally settled on a contract to have Jesus put out of the way, and when this humble Galilean Rabbi responded by teaching his disciples a Psalm, a variation perhaps of Psalm 118, to sing on their way up to Jerusalem – it would be quite appropriate for their annual Passover pilgrimage to give such a musical profession of trust in the Lord God of Israel who brings true emancipation to His people. He keeps his promises. He does not fail. And now, they indeed join in the chorus, one and all:
How often I wished to gather,
Jerusalem’s children just like a mother hen,
But you would not.
Just like a mother hen
encircles her brood under her wings,
But you would not.
Therefore, have your abandoned house to yourselves.
For you will not see me, you will not see me,
Only when you shall say,
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
And so it seems that Luke is depicting for us the crowd joining in a chorus that was very much like that sung by the messengers from heaven in the gig outside of Bethlehem to the shepherds in Bethlehem’s hillsides some three decades earlier.
Glory, glory all the way up,
as far as you can go into the heavens,
Meanwhile there will indeed be peace of earth
with the endowment of God’s favour
upon those with whom God is pleased
(2:14 and 3:22 for the One with whom God is pleased
ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα).
This, as Luke has prepared us to expect, was too much for the persistently mumbling Pharisees.
Teacher [note: not ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’), are not your disciples overstepping themselves? Shouldn’t you as their teacher and responsible for their piety be restraining them?
Jesus’ reply is clear enough even if we didn’t know the Old Testament reference here. It’s not too clear to us, now, whether Theophilus would have immediately understood the reference to Habbakuk 2:9-14:
“Woe to him who corruptly enlarges his house,
setting his nest out of reach,
safe from harm!
You have planned shame for your household
by excising many people;
and so your life you have forfeited.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam respond from the wooden framework.
Woe again to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city upon iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and do nations weary themselves just for nothing?
For the earth will indeed be filled to overflowing
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
just as the waters cover the sea.”
No doubt Theophilus, in his Christian walk, having heard of the bold affirmation of Zacchaeus concerning the Lord’s demands upon their tax-gathering, and much more, would have come to appreciate just how much all the speech reported by Luke in his books was of an ongoing discourse of Jesus, his disciples and the religious leaders of Israel.
Theophilus is effectively told that it is important for him, in confessing Israel’s Messiah as his Lord, to also drew upon the Torah and the prophets, to read them now in the Spirit of Christ Jesus, in the light of his coming.
And by taking this hint from Jesus’ reply to the censorious Pharisees in their mumbling and grumbling, Theophilus would derive a sense of how Jesus understood the judgement under which the historic people of Israel laboured when viewed in the context of the prophetic announcement such as that is given by Habbakuk (or of the reference to Zechariah 9:9 in the Gospel’s of Matthew 21:5 or John 12:15, or from Psalm 118:25-26, or of the allusion given by Mark 11:10 to the prophetic announcement of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7:1-17).
And Luke goes further and depicts Jesus’ understanding, bathed in the teaching of the Law and the prophets, bathed in his tears for what he knew was pending, certain judgement. And so the stones, which would have cried out had his disciple’s heartfelt praise for the Lord been curtailed by the pedagogic over-reach advised by the Pharisees, are then described as being tossed aside in the wrecking ball of judgement that is surely coming upon an administration shamed by its own inner disloyalty to its calling, founded upon rivers of blood.
Resistance to the ways of the merciful Lord, that now were manifesting themselves into committed opposition to the Son of Man who had come as David’s son, riding on the colt of a donkey, will collapse and be utterly overthrown in the providence of that same Lord. But it will not be immediately and it will not be on the occasion of this visitation.
But if only you had known … if only you had turned your hearts … .
Luke describes Jesus’ entering the temple. Were his eyes still wet from weeping over Jerusalem? The account is short. (We cannot ‘sweet’.) But in its brevity, Luke recounts a significant moment, a decisive concentration of human authority. No one dared stand in his way. There is no record that anyone grieved by this table-turning submitting it as evidence in Jesus’ trial. Who could countermand this act of cleansing? Here a “commanding presence” acts in a self-evidently legitimate way.
And then, Luke tells us, the Chief Priests and the scribes – exposed by their compromised stewardship of the temple precincts, the place for sinners to approach the God of Israel and to be reassured of His promise of mercy – are sorely provoked, and continue on the murderous path on which they have for some time conspired.
They have painted themselves into a corner by their persistent weaseling, having found ways to please the people by pleasing the Roman occupiers. After all, they had their status to protect; they were the religious veto agency that was vital to civic order. How could they object openly? Weren’t the crowds hanging on Jesus’ every word?
25 January 2017