Meadowbrook Congregational Christian Church
Shouting Stones, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd
Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH
April 10, 2022 – Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV—JANT)1
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
We often do not want to accept any truth that is an inconvenience to us. Whether as a community or an individual, we find ourselves quickly locating the nearest hiding place when an unwanted truth comes into our orbit. For those of us who, in our minds, feel we already “have it good” in life, perhaps we just don’t want to risk losing anything. If we have a great deal of power or things, maybe we feel we deserve it and want to protect our status. And if we have far less than those around us and the world, we may be mad or defeated. Mad that we have so little—at how unfair it all is. Mad that others won’t share what they should or that we don’t have access to it as we should. Or yet… defeated; that after so many years of trying [to do] the right things, we feel like just giving up. What’s the use?
I’m intentionally oversimplifying here, of course. Likely no one feels as black and white as these examples or the stereotypes they may invoke. And yet, we do see a bit about what they share (if only from a bird’s-eye view): truth can be inconvenient for anybody. In our passage from the Gospel of Luke this morning, we meet the familiar story of that first Palm Sunday[i], when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey[ii]. At the Mount of Olives[iii], Jesus sends two disciples to get a young donkey—one that had never been ridden before. Telling the owner that it’s for the Lord—the Lord needs it—they bring the donkey to Jesus just as he asked.
Entering Jerusalem from Mount Olivet, Jesus is greeted by joyous cheers of praise to God from all the disciples. The people lay down cloaks that Jesus may process on them like royalty, which may not sound like much until you realize that they likely laid down a garment that was of great value to them. No common person would have a closet of these. In essence, they laid down what was theirs before Jesus, paying homage to a king,[iv] but a much different king than may have been expected.[v]
Kings would receive glorious receptions, sure, but kings were typically thought of as having and representing great power, wealth, prestige, control, influence, and strength, especially military strength. The people witnessing Jesus’s entry that day would have been expecting a king in armor, one promised by scripture to deliver them and to make things right. Had it been a military general on a horse, perhaps it would have computed more naturally, but what the people instead received was Jesus, humble, without armor, with no show of strength or victory to claim solely for himself, riding on a young donkey. The sheer absurdity of the truth of this certainly could have been gleaned by the people there that day. Yet why did the disciples cheer? Why did they cast down their precious garments and praise God for what was happening [to] Jesus? Aware of the inconvenience of what this meant or not, the disciples did shout praise that day. And they praised God for what God was doing, what was then taking place through Jesus. Maybe they knew enough to know that this was something huge, of great importance, extending far beyond them. But they were not the only ones to see Jesus in Jerusalem that day.
Luke[‘s author] tells us that there were Pharisees in the crowd at Jerusalem. Among them, some spoke to Jesus after the disciples had been shouting their praise. These Pharisees said two very important things in one short statement. They first acknowledge Jesus’s status as a teacher, that he has authority and followers, and then they demand that he rebuke his disciples for their behavior. The NRSV reads, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” The NASB reads, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!”2 Strong words either way, yet both betray recognition of Jesus’ status as a faith leader, as one who people followed. In saying what they did here, these Pharisees took Jesus seriously. What they witnessed may have been the truth, but it was not one they were willing to permit, so they tried to silence it. Using their authority, these Pharisees demanded that Jesus silence his followers. Luke doesn’t show whether the crowd heard this order from the Pharisees, but we know that Jesus heard them and that he answered them.
There are those who stand to lose a great deal when the truth is revealed, and they do not always respond well to the inconveniences posed by truth. There are also those who may gain the most from the truth, and we equate the justice of their need often with the volume of their voice. But Jesus shows us it isn’t just about what we say, the truth is there for us to experience whether we acknowledge it. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Why is it a problem for an individual or group to lay sole claim to the truth? Who is most served when such as these have power over the access of others to say the truth?
We remember that Jesus did not come in armor on a battle horse that day in Jerusalem. He came in humility—as God called—for the people. And those people cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” But the Pharisees who spoke out did not like where this was going. Their viewpoint was compromised as was their authority as keepers of the faith. Perhaps they immediately acknowledged the crowd’s quotation of the 118th Psalm and how it was pointing towards Jesus as here coming in the name of God.[vi] Or maybe they just didn’t like how Jesus was becoming too much of a threat to their power and influence.
When we revisit the Palm Sunday story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem each year, we bring our whole life into it. We know where we are in the world today and how we feel; who has much; and who has little. We remind ourselves of how we’re supposed to think of Jesus as a king but we’re not sure that we always make a strong connection from this to the cross, let alone the empty tomb.
So, we ask ourselves again, here at the start of Holy Week: who is most in need of a king today? Who needs to be ruled, to have justice, to be delivered? How do we know what is true and who tries to claim power over that truth?
Friends, we all witness God’s truth in our thoughts, our hearts, and in the hands and feet we use to live each day in love. We know how God blesses us to learn the truth from our reason, experience, and heritage or tradition. And we as God’s people in the local church know that God tells us the story of God’s truth in the Bible, where we see chapter after chapter, verse after verse, not only God’s love but the encouragement we have to participate in it. We live in an age of economic disparity, abuse, greed, neglect, misinformation, the bait-and-switch, contagions, wars, and love; the love we’re called to serve God by one another and the one which fights it, gazing deeply into a mirror which says to serve only the one in the reflection.
“Blessed is the king, the One who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”[vii] “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these stop speaking, the stones will shout out!”
God’s truth is sacrifice and it costs something. The disciples here in Luke’s gospel praised God for the miracles they saw Jesus perform. Jesus is the good news. He is the answer God provides for all people. His promise is freedom for the oppressed. Jesus is also unexpected. He’s not the king people think will come to lead them. Jesus is still not what the world expects. It wants money, power, and influence. The world wants to control and glory. But glory is God’s alone. So, we ask ourselves, as followers of Jesus. How is Jesus’s triumphal entry a promise to the disenfranchised, the oppressed today and how are we invited into it as humble servants? How may our love be what is needed and what does it look like for the church to be this now? From humble entry to the cross and empty tomb, this week we witness a most beautiful truth from the One who loves completely. Love is for us all and we are all God’s people. May it be so. Amen.
- Levine AJ, Brettler MZ, eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New Revised Standard Version). 2nd ed. Oxford University Press; 2017.
- Lockman Foundation. New American Standard Bible. 2020 ed. Zondervan; 2021.
- Sheinfeld S. Sukkot in the New Testament: From Lulav and Hoshana to Palm Sunday. TheTorah.com. Published online September 28, 2018.
- Brettler MZ, Levine AJ. Psalm 2: Is the Messiah the Son of God. TheTorah.org. Published online December 29, 2020.
[i] Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion, is likely an appropriated Sukkot story.3
[ii] Cf. Zech. 9:9.
[iii] Also known as Mount Olivet.
[iv] Cf. 2 Kings 9:13.
[v] For a thorough yet accessible study of the divergence of Christian & Jewish reception of the messianic hope, see Brettler & Levine’s TheTorah.org essay entitled Psalm 2: Is the Messiah the Son of God?4
[vi] The mainly Jewish crowd would have recognized Ps. 118 as one the psalms recited as part of Hallel—an addition of psalms added to Sukkot, with which Jesus’s entry likely coincided.3
[vii] Jesus’s interpretation of Ps. 118:26.