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22 November. Luke chapters 19-20
This is the turning point in Luke’s story of the life of Jesus – what is called the Triumphal Entry. Every year on Palm Sunday, churches re-enact his ride into Jerusalem on a young donkey, with crowds cheering him on with shouts of “Hosanna!” (“Please save us!”). We even keep small crosses made of palm leaves to remind us for the rest of the year both of his joyful entry to the holy city, and also his crucifixion a few days later.
After entering the city, Jesus goes straight to the temple (did he ride the donkey into it? – we don’t know) and begins to drive out “those who were selling things there” (other gospel writers say it was the money changers – probably both). He was angry with them for turning what was supposed to be a “house of prayer” into a commercial enterprise. This passage is sometimes used to criticise those cathedrals that charge an entry fee, although I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, as the cathedral chapter is only trying to cover its running costs from visitors who otherwise might not make a donation at all.
So we have Jesus being acclaimed by the crowd in great joy, then maybe an hour later angrily confronting the temple merchants. What made him change his mood so swiftly?
In between these two passages are a few verses that get less attention in Holy Week observances. “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (19:41-44).
It seems that as he approached the city walls, he was given a prophetic insight into the spiritual truth behind the immediate events around him. He saw the Roman army marching against the city, laying siege, conquering, looting and setting fire to it. His own act of driving profiteering merchants from the temple court was nothing to the sacking of the city that the Romans would accomplish a generation later, driving all the Jewish people from the city. It would be nearly 2000 years before the city was once again the City of David, and even then the temple site would be in the control of others.
Jesus also understood that this would happen because his own people had rejected him, rejected his peaceful path, passed up an opportunity to turn back to God. Instead their desire for independence and their love of money and power would lead to their destruction, where he offered salvation. No wonder he wept.
Probably only those closest to Jesus in the crowd noticed his weeping, as the praise continued around him. Sometimes we find our own emotions at odds with the people around, when we are aware of circumstances beyond the immediate events that give us concern. We might wish that those who are rejoicing at some trivial matter would share our understanding that there are deeper and graver issues at stake. But like Jesus, we find ourselves alone. In such circumstances, take heart, for he is with you, and he understands. Jesus weeps with those who weep, and mourns with those who mourn.