Our Palm Sunday gospel lesson is a rather strange text. As Jesus instructed them to do so, the disciples borrowed a donkey, brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on it and set Jesus on top. “As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was 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, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Did you hear something strange there? For when have you ever heard the disciples of Jesus referred to as “the whole multitude of the disciples.” There were only twelve. But Luke describes them as “the whole multitude of the disciples.”
Let’s see, has there been any other time in Luke’s gospel when we have heard such language? Reminds us of another multitude, doesn’t it? The whole “multitude of the heavenly host” at the birth of Jesus, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” That sounds much like the chant of the disciples this morning, doesn’t it? I believe Luke wants to make the point that this processional of Jesus into Jerussalem is as important as the first processional of Jesus into the world. For Luke, Palm Sunday is as significant as Christmas.
And this is certainly not the only strange thing in this text. But by this point in Luke’s story, should we really be that surprised? For throughout Luke something is always out of place, out of kilter, out of whack. If we remember the stories Luke has told us thus far, we would remember that the perfect neighbor is a despised Samaritan; the selfish prodigal is welcomed home with an extravagant party; the greedy publican goes home from the Temple justified; a woman who lets down her hair at the dinner table is praised; the first is last and the last is first; to save one’s life, one must lose one’s life; and now the king, and not just any king, the king of kings, the one whose birth was heralded by “a multitude of heavenly hosts,” a theme now picked up by a multitude of disciples, enters the city riding on a donkey, and not just any donkey, a borrowed donkey.
If Jesus is a King, he is certainly unlike any king the world had ever seen: A king of poor shepherds; A king of simple fishermen; A king of dishonest tax collectors; A king of despised Samaritans; A king of harlots; A king of lepers, demoniacs, cripples, and outcasts. New Testament professor Alan Culpepper writes: “Those who followed this king were a rag tag bunch, pathetically unfit for the grand hopes that danced in their imaginations.”
And the cloaks thrown on the road that day were not expensive garments but tattered shawls and dusty, sweat-stained rags. Jesus was certainly no ordinary king, but a rather strange one.
The King we may want is not the king we get. But the good news is, this is the King we truly need. It is the King this broken world needs. It is the only king that can save this world. It is the only King that can give us life, true life, abundant and eternal.
Reminds me of the words of those great theologians of our time who once sang: “We can’t always get what we want, but we we try sometimes, we might just find, we get what we need.”
Jesus is the King. But as he will tell Pilate later this week, Jesus is a different kind of King, for his kingdom “is not from this world.” He adds: “If my kingdom was from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
And, if we are honest, this makes those of us living in this world very uncomfortable. But that is Jesus. He comforts the afflicted of this world and afflicts the comfortable of this world. And whether we like to admit it or not, the truth is, we have grown rather fond of the kings and kingdoms of this world. And we sometimes have difficulty accepting anything different.
We prefer the kingdoms in this world that “would be fighting” to keep Jesus “from being handed over to the Jews.”
We prefer “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
We prefer “It’s not our job to judge the terrorists. It’s our mission to arrange the meeting.”
We prefer “the statue of Liberty…shaking her fist.”
The truth is that we prefer answering violence with more violence. We believe combating hate with more hate. We believe fighting for what we believe, even for Jesus.
We believe in coercing our convictions, imposing our opinions, forcing our beliefs, and we don’t care who it offends or even destroys in the process.
We prefer a kingdom where we say it loudly and proudly that “we eat meat; we carry guns; we say Merry Christmas and Happy Easter; we speak English and if you don’t like it, get the heck out!”
We prefer a kingdom where we do unto others as they do unto us.
We prefer a kingdom where we love only those we believe deserve our love.
We prefer a kingdom where we help only those who are willing to help themselves.
We prefer a kingdom where people put the needs of their own before the needs of a foreigner.
We prefer a kingdom where we care ourselves, while our neighbors fend for themselves.
Jesus implies to Pilate that there are two types of kings. There are the kings of this world, and then there is the king from another world. And then Jesus asks Pilate and Jesus asks you and me: Who is your king? Who do you say that I am? Am I your King? Is your king from another world or is your king from this world?
One king offers protection;
One king promises persecution, saying if you follow him, people will rise up and utter all kinds of evil against you.
One king endorses greed and validates prosperity;
One king fosters sacrifice and promotes giving it all away.
One king caters to the powerful, the wealthy and the elite;
One king blesses the weak, the poor and the marginalized.
One king accepts only people of like-mind, like-dress, like-language, and like-faith;
One king accepts all people.
One king is restrictive with forgiveness;
One king is generous with it.
One king controls by fear;
One king reigns with love.
One king leads by threat of punishment;
One king rules with the promise of grace.
One king governs by imposing;
One king leads with service.
One king throws rocks at sinners;
One king defends those caught in the very act of sinning.
One king devours the home of the widow;
One king offers her a new home.
One king turns away the refugee;
One king welcomes the refugee, for he, himself, was a refugee.
One king destroys his enemies with an iron fist;
One king dies for his enemies with outstretched arms.
For one king’s throne is made with silver and gold;
One king’s throne is made with wood and nails.
One king wears a crown of rubies and diamonds;
One king wears a crown of thorns.
So, of course, the powers that be, the kings of this world, will arrest this king “whose kingdom is not from this world.” Of course, they will torture this king, spit on this king, mock this king, and crucify this king—this king from a foreign realm. Of course, they will try to bury this king and seal this king’s tomb up with a stone.
But hate will not defeat this king. Bigotry will not stop this king. Religion and patriotism will not overthrow this king. This king will rise again. But not in the way the kings of this world rise. Despite the desires of his followers or the lyrics of their songs, there will be no thunder in his footsteps or lightening in his fists. There will be no plagues, fire, brimstone, or flood. There will no shock and awe or violence or riots in the streets of any kind.
For this king understands what, sadly, few since have understood, and that is:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,” said the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
Consequently, this king will arise from the darkness of the grave, powerfully, yet unobtrusively; mightily, yet unassumingly; leaving room to recognize him or not to recognize him, leaving room to believe or to doubt, to reject him or to follow him. This king will drive out the darkness, not with more darkness, but with light. This king will drive out the hate, not with more hate, but with love.
So, how do we live in these hate-filled days of hostility, violence and riots in the streets?
Well, that all depends on who your king is.
The arrest this week of a terrorist responsible for the attacks in Paris reminded me of Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife in those attacks, who proclaimed to the world which king he chooses to serve. He shared it in beautiful tribute to his wife on Facebook, in the days after the attack, promising to not let his 17-month-old son grow up in fear of ISIS.
“You took away the life of an exceptional human being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred…
I do not know who you are, and I do not wish to…
If this God for whom you kill so blindly has made us in His image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in His heart…
So I will not give you the privilege of hating you. You certainly sought it, but replying to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance which made you into what you are. You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before.”
No, it may not be what we want, but if we open our hearts and try, it is truly what we need. It is what our world needs. So let heaven and nature sing! May the whole multitude of God’s people prepare him room shouting with our words and deeds: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Glory in the highest heaven and on earth peace!”