This week, we turn our attention to the final days of Jesus’ life, as told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Beginning with Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem, each day will highlight one of the episodes from passion week. If you are in the vicinity of La Sierra, we invite you to attend Four Days with Jesus, beginning Thursday evening.
Luke tells a different version of the Triumphal Entry story than the other gospels (19:29-40). As usual, the differences are worth our attention. For instance, as Jesus is entering the city of Jerusalem, the throngs of people aren’t waving palm fronds, but instead they are laying out only their clothes as a red carpet of sorts for Jesus to enter upon.
Also, they aren’t shouting the the iconic line that comes to mind when we think of the Triumphal Entry, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Instead, they shout, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
The other gospels tell the story as though everyone present was all on board with the celebration of the arrival of Jesus. Luke, however, tells a different story. Luke tells that the Pharisees present are troubled enough by what the people are shouting that they approach Jesus and urge him to quiet the people down.
The question that comes to my mind is, Why was this such a threatening anthem for the people to be singing? Why would claiming that Jesus was a sort of king coming in peace be so worrisome?
Many commentators makes the case that this is a calculated move by Jesus, staged to mirror a Roman emperor’s entry into a city. Such an entry by an emperor was meant to be a show of force that would let the people know that military violence would be the gift they would unwrap if they even thought of insurrection. But Jesus’ take on this entry act is not meant to be a show of force; instead he is parading as an Alternative King, coming in Peace, not in violence.
And this King of Peace is so threatening that within a week he will be dead.
The Quakers have a saying: “If you want to start a conflict, talk about peace.” Jesus’ Peace does seem to breed unrest and discomfort at times—not by the threat of force, but by the shining of light. The name Light of the World for Jesus is rich in meaning, in part because light not only warms, helps things grow, helps you find your way, but also reveals things hidden. It shines on everything. Jesus’ commitment to peace doesn’t stop at halting violence between violent groups; it seeks to reveal even the small ways in which we live violently towards each other, towards ourselves. And this is offensive not just to violent power, but to us all.
If we are honest, Jesus’ work in our lives does not always feel good; it’s not all warm and fuzzy. And that’s because the light of Jesus’ Peace reveals what is hidden in the darkness of our own shadows. If I am honest, the work of Peace in my own heart has been at times humiliating, when Peace has revealed things I’d rather keep in secret. It has been painful when Peace has asked me to look in the mirror and see my secret ways of subtle violence. Such uncovering has made me feel ashamed, which is a unique and deep type of suffering.
Yet here is the good news. We are not called on to seek out suffering for suffering’s sake. The challenge to carry our crosses is not pushing us to seek out masochistic, self-loathing ways to suffer just because. It is not our job to invent ways to suffer for the Way of Jesus; rather it is the Way of Jesus to come suffer with us, wherever Peace may entail hardship or demand suffering!
Jesus, this story insists, does not avoid the hardship and suffering that Peace demands. He goes headlong into Jerusalem where he knows violence awaits him, and he does so proclaiming Peace—Peace that seeks to soothe and heal, yes, but also Peace that convicts and reveals and calls to repentance. The beauty of the story is that we are not left to suffer the painful scouring of the revealing light of Peace alone, but instead Jesus is moving headlong into our suffering, in solidarity, with compassion, with love.