The last week of Jesus’ life on earth involves a sequence of events that is extraordinary. Like his “surprise birth” (see my post of April 11, 2011), this week is not what anyone would expect, certainly not for the expected Messiah or someone proclaimed as the “King of the Jews.” Once again we see that God’s ways are not our ways. God is indeed a God of surprises.
On the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, Luke tells us that Jesus approached Jerusalem from the east on the road up the steep incline from Jericho. He mounted a donkey and, as he approached the city, crowds of people gathered along his path and started shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38). What an exciting time this must have been for the disciples. This was what they were hoping for. Their rabbi would announce a new kingdom, which meant freedom from the Romans, and the people would rise up in support of King Jesus.
As Jesus crossed the crest of the Mount of Olives and saw Jerusalem, Luke tells us that a surprising event happened — Jesus wept (Luke 19:28-44). This is hardly the act of a conquering military hero! Jesus’ heart was full of grief because he knew that the people of this city did not know or understand the shalom he could bring. Jesus wept when he saw the city he loved and when he thought about the judgment that would come for rejecting his gospel of peace. The Son of God wept over sin and disobedience. No other religion in the world believes in a God like this!
Following the exhilarating experience of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the disciples must have been perplexed when Jesus subsequently withdrew from the limelight. Was he truly the Messiah? Was this the time when his Kingdom would be inaugurated? The people seemed ready and Passover Week, with its commemoration of the liberation from slavery in Egypt, reminded everyone of their present bondage to the occupying armies of Rome and the promise of a Davidic king who would bring freedom. Momentum was on their side and the time seemed right to the disciples for a bold assertion of power.
But then Jesus made some decisions that were not fitting of a revolutionary leader. He hosted a “last supper” over a Passover meal where, in addition to washing the feet of his disciples like a common household servant (John 13: 1-17), he spoke of his suffering and death that would come soon.
After dinner, Jesus led his disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. It was there that his betrayer, Judas, accompanied by armed guards and religious officials, found him. All four Gospels report this arrest scene, but John’s record adds some important additional details. John tells us that as the crowd of officials and soldiers approached, Jesus identified himself as the one they were looking for. When he did that, they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:6). Luke tell us that the disciples then asked if they should defend themselves with their swords and one of the disciples was not willing to wait for an answer, so he attacked the High Priest’s servant. Peter, identified only in the Gospel of John (John 18:10) as the one ready to fight, had to be angrily rebuked by Jesus who, even in the time of crisis, called for peace and stopped to heal the severed ear of the injured man.
The promised Messiah was the “Prince of Peace.” He was not a revolutionary political leader out to overthrow Rome and to instigate insurrection, a point he clearly established when he denied leading a rebellion (Luke 22:52). Jesus chose not to use weapons of war to bring in his Kingdom. The gospel of the Kingdom was a message of shalom and its inauguration came not by force. Jesus taught about being a peacemaker and now he demonstrated once again how that teaching should be lived out.
- The Biblical descriptions of Jesus crying, both on his approach into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and at the news of his friend Lazarus’ death, is very moving to me. It says, among other things, that there are times when faced with injustice and evil that the only response can sometimes be tears. Do you agree?
- Do you know of any other peacemakers who consistently lived out what they taught on this subject? What other world figures come to mind?
- If you were one of Jesus’ disciples witnessing this week’s surprising sequence of events, what do you think your reaction would be? What would you be thinking?