Sermon Lesson: Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)
This is a much preached upon passage. We know Jesus came to Jerusalem, we know he came in riding on a donkey (or, according to Luke, on a colt), and that people waved their palms and coats at him, proclaiming him king.
We have our palms. Or, at least, hopefully, we shall this year. We can wave them about or, if someone in the church is talented, make them into palm crosses to be brought home and set up somewhere until they are forgotten or no longer seasonal. Traditionally, the palms are saved for roughly a year until Ash Wednesday, when they are burnt to ash and then placed in the sign of the cross on believers’ foreheads at the beginning of Lent.
The image from the passage, however, that has always struck me, is the one of the stones. Luke chapter 19, verses 39 to 40: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ // ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘If they keep silent, the stones will cry out.’”
It’s such an interesting picture, stones crying out. When I was a child, I actually imagined the stones having mouths and eyes, almost like cartoon characters, and crying out. But what were they saying? Can they even speak words as if they were human? Or are their cries as formless as the rocks themselves?
Another great mystery is—why the stones? When God created the heavens and the earth at the beginning of time as we know it, He did not say, “Let there be stones. Let there be rocks.” He allowed the ground to appear between the waters and the sky, and we can conclude that there were rocks, but there is nothing specific to them. Ground is made up of dirt… and from the dirt came vegetation… and because of the vegetation there were animals… and from all of that came the Garden of Eden.
Would it not make more sense for the waving palms to sing? They are already dancing in a manner, although at least in this version of the story of Palm Sunday there aren’t even any palms to wave.
Why are the rocks, then, “crying aloud”? I went back to the Biblical Greek and along with the specific meaning to cry out like a raven, the word does mean to cry aloud.
But it made me wonder: what are they shouting about?
Are they shouting out glory and praises to the king who is riding triumphantly through the streets of Jerusalem? That is what we’re supposed to infer, but I admit that I tend to overthink certain questions.
Or are the rocks crying out about something else?
Jesus says that if the people were to be silenced that the rocks would cry out, and we just assume it would be the same thing. The Pharisees assume it would be the same thing.
However, rocks are old. Rocks have seen things. Rocks know. These rocks will be imbued with divine power and—what if they saw—what if they saw what was coming ahead? What if they saw Jesus’s arrest, Jesus’s trial by Pilate, Jesus’s audience before Herod the King, Jesus’s torture, Jesus’s crucifixion—and would warn him—Stop! Stop now! Turn around! These people singing and praising you now are indeed fickle.
Rocks, however, do not have a history of being so prophetic. They’re used to build things. They’re seen in precious gemstones that are given to queens or used to describe women. But these stones are different. They have been blessed by God Himself.
All of my musings, however, are for nothing. They are just musings, and Jesus did not need a warning, even from the stones beneath his feet. He knew what was coming, so you had to wonder what he was thinking. He told his two disciples to go and find a colt. He told them where it would be, he told them what to say to its owner.
He fulfills the words of the prophet Zechariah who in chapter 9, verse 9 proclaims: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!” Jesus knew the image he was creating. He also knew, at this point, that there was a price on his head, but he is showing himself off. He is saying, “I am not afraid!” He is defying the Pharisees who want nothing more than to see him dead, who are even in the crowd and telling him to make his followers be silent, the very men and women they turn against Jesus in the space of less than a week.
In essence, Jesus is proclaiming a heresy in a way. The kings of Israel and Judah are dead and gone. Israel is under the occupation of Rome. There is little hope of her, and despite the Zealots, a rebel group, there was little hope of overthrowing Rome. To proclaim himself King instead of Caesar Augustus was to declare a supposed heresy and to write his own death sentence in the eyes of the Romans. Not only was he now in trouble with the Priests and the Scribes, but he was now on the map of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
Still, Jesus proclaims himself king, and throws a party in everyone’s faces. You have to wonder what was going through his mind. One last hurrah before the arrest? I’ll make them see me for who I really am just this one time?
What courage it must have taken, if it was that. Even if it is a last Hurrah before the inevitable betrayal, let us look at Jesus’s behavior. Before now, at least in the book of Mark, there has always been the Messianic Secret. Jesus has never wanted anyone to proclaim that he is the Son of God or the Son of Man—both divine titles. Yet here he is proclaiming himself an earthly king.
There is a difference, of course. But he is seeking recognition for the person who he is, a child of the House of David, when before he sought only obscurity while preaching and performing his miracles in out-of-the-way places. He is courting the crowd. It is as if he is saying, “Here I am. Recognize me for who I am, at least just this once.” Jesus was in hiding before to a certain extent. While he performed miracles and preached the Old Testament in the Synagogues as well as his new Gospel, Jesus (as I said) did not say who he was.
Jesus, however, has never once hidden from us—his followers. His face has always been revealed, even if at times he confuses and we need to look closely at what he did and said to better understand him.
Jesus on Palm Sunday proclaimed himself to the world and it is time we recognized him for exactly who he is—the Son of God, and the Second Person of God (or God the Son)! Let us Exalt his name this year as we gather together for almost the first time in a year! Let us praise him and thank him for the beautiful world which he has given us, and the salvation he has offered to us in heaven!