Scripture | Psalm 118:19-29 MSG | Matthew 21:1-17 CEB
In seminary, I was invited to join a group of other students traveling to Washington, DC to participate in the National Equality March.
This was anticipated to be the first large scale nationwide peaceful demonstration to advocate for equal rights for LGBT Americans.
And we seminary students, gay and straight alike, were excited and honored to go to DC, to the heart of all power in our country, and represent the voice of loving and affirming faith leaders.
We were especially excited to represent that voice of love and affirmation because we knew this was a group of people that had been preached to with a different message… that had been told time and time again by the church, by its leaders and by fellow christians, that they weren't welcome, that God did not love them, that they had to change who they were, who God had made them to be, in order to belong. So we were eager to offer a different message, and join in demonstrating alongside them in solidarity.
So, we piled in the car and we felt like we were on our way to be a part of history. We felt like the freedom riders. We met up with groups from other seminaries and even reached out to local church members to find places to crash.
The day of the march arrived and the scale felt enormous, Nearly 200 thousand people marched along the streets of DC, right up to the seats of power in our country. We walked past the white house and onto the steps of the capitol building.
The highlight for us was when we saw Westboro Baptist church stationed on a corner protesting the march. They were doing what they always do. Carrying hate filled signs, yelling terrible things at the people marching. So, we seminary students decided to park ourselves in the street, directly in front of them.
Again, We wanted to offer a different voice from christianity. They were shouting words of judgement and hate so we decided to sing hymns of God's love to deafen them. They held their signs up and we blocked them from view with our large signs that read “Seminary Students for Equality” and “Equal Rights for All God’s Children.”
As people passed us, and cheered us on, we felt like we were changing the ways of the world. We felt like we were confronting the backwards ways of the some of the loudest voices in christianity and preaching a radical message of love.
We even made it on the national news… well a picture of us did… a 4 second flash on the screen as part of a slideshow of other pictures sharing the story of the march.
We were one small part of this disruptive demonstration, we felt a part of something much bigger than ourselves, like we were making a difference. Taking a stand and demonstrating on the largest national level, we felt like we were changing the world for good.
I imagine there is a similar sentiment in the crowd in Jerusalem that day...
Jesus. has finally arrived.
The culmination of his ministry… the destination he has been journeying towards all these years…
He’s already been throughout the countryside, to all those remote fishing villages, He’s already been through all those outskirt streets and forgotten alleyways, He’s already been invited into all those homes and sat at all those tables, He’s been preaching his message about God’s radically different kingdom, a new way of living… a structuring of our world that is rooted in love and creates life.
And he’s not just been saying it, he’s been living it out: loving, caring for, and healing the most broken in society.
Through it all he has amassed crowds of followers. Thousands of people are showing up just to hear him speak. Showing up just for the chance to reach out and touch the lining of his robe.
And now this movement, with Jesus at its head, has arrived to the center of the Jewish world. The message that's been preached is now getting realized.
The King of Kings has arrived, humble and riding on a donkey has finally arrived at the gates of the big city.
The Prince of Peace, who rules with a different kind of authority, has now come face to face with the people who hold the most power in his world…
It’s God’s Kingdom verses the kingdoms of the world
Jesus verses the temple authorities…
Jesus verses The Roman Empire
All of the worlds top heavyweights
meeting in a one-night-only,
must-see pay-per-view event.
At least, this is how I have almost always pictured it. Imagining Jesus’ authority as an equal match to that of the other religious leaders, equal to that of Caesar’s authority.
I’ve often imagined Jesus’ processional march as the main event in Jerusalem that day… as though it stopped everything and everyone in their tracks, as though everyone in the city that day went to go find a palm branch to lay at the feet of the true king.
The same goes for the scene in the temple, which happens immediately after in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus comes into Jerusalem and immediately puts on a very public demonstration… turning over the money changers tables.
We picture this event as though its happening in our sanctuary... and it feels like this would be headline news for all of Jerusalem.
A story that would have shocked and provoked everyone in the city. A story that would have been on the radar of ever religious and civil leader.
After our march in DC, we arrived at the apartment of a member of one of the presbyterian churches in town. She asked us how the march went. She shared with us that she had been looking for us on the local news’ coverage of the event. And then, after we shared all about what we'd seen and experienced, and our time spent with Westboro Baptist, She said casually...
“I’m realizing just how numb I’ve become to these demonstrations. Marches are just a part of life here, in fact, I think there are three this week. Our most common concern about them is how they’ll effect the traffic on our commute. But It’s refreshing to hear your energy and excitement. It’s reminding me how much this matters, and how demonstrations like these wake us up and force us to realize we need to change.”
Jerusalem is not only emotionally the center of Jewish Life, It is also a large city, and particularly during this time of the passover feast, when jews come from all over to visit the temple and give an offering… the population booms to almost three times its normal size. A parade happening on one side of town would have been one of the many bullet points on the agenda for the day. The Temple complex alone is massive, its the size of 12 soccer fields placed next to each other. If Jesus comes in to turn over a table or two in one part of the campus, it is not going to make much of a difference given the size of the place. [Amy-Jill Levine, “Entering the Passion of Jesus,” pg.48]
We have to understand then, that the events of this day, the palm parade, the display in the temple, are symbolic demonstrations rather than functional ones.
Jesus… the humble prince of peace isn’t coming into Jerusalem on a war horse to force the empire into submission by shear brute force… Instead, He’s preaching to us with his actions… symbolically demonstrating to the world that real authority lies not in structures of power or dominance but in humility and meekness.
Jesus doesn’t turn over the tables in the temple because he hopes to cease all of its operation.
He is making a statement. Telling us symbolically that God is for everyone not just the people who can afford it. The tables are flipped and the first thing Jesus does in God’s house is to bring broken people in and heal them without charge.
Jesus is barely on the radar as he enters the big city's gates, there is just so much else going on that day.
I have to imagine he's small potatoes to anyone in charge, a podunk rabbi from nowheresville if they've heard of him at all...
But call yourself king, the true authority of a new kingdom, and ride into town with a kingly procession, a triumphant parade… dragging your feet a donkey... and that's a symbol that gets talked about...
Come to the symbolic home of the Jewish face and call call it a hide out for thieves, flip over tables, proclaim it a house of prayer and heal people there, and you can hear the whispers throughout the streets...
Symbols speak to us at a deeper level. They provoke us and challenges us. Symbols force us reconsider the things we hold to be true. Symbols spread beyond a specific moment and beyond a group of people. Symbols last and have staying power.
Our time marching and demonstrating in DC, functionally did not do much... it maybe disrupted life in the city for a couple hours.
Functionally, our marching, our advocacy, our expressions of love didn't do much..
The president wasn't even at the white house to watch the march live, he happened to be out of the country at the time. . And It would take another two years for Don't Ask Don't Tell to be repealed. It would take another six years for the supreme court to reach their decision on marriage.
Symbolically, our actions were making a statement that would last far beyond the day of the march, that would reach far beyond the city.
Symbolically, Two hundred thousand people took to the streets on a global stage, and demonstrated to a world audience that their voices should be heard, that their love matters, and they deserve the same rights as anyone else.
At the very least, Symbolically, the people marching that day saw a dozen faith leaders love them enough to protect and shield them from voices shouting hate.
Functionally, Jesus did not accomplish anything as he demonstrated in Jerusalem so long ago... and yet... still... this story lives on.. and yet still... its symbols still provoke and challenge us...
And yet... still... we wave our palms
and bow down to the humble and peaceful king
that rides on donkeys
that keeps coming into our world
and flipping it upside down.
May Christ's symbolic demonstrations
keep on preaching to us…
keep on provoking us and challenging us…
Until his kingdom does come at last...