1st Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Matthew 21:1 — 11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Matthew 21:12 — 17
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Reflection “More Than A Parade”
So there was this parade going on, as you probably know. It was a parade of military power to make sure the Jewish people in Jerusalem, those who lived there and those who made the pilgrimage there for the celebration of the Passover, stayed in line and didn’t revolt against their subjugation to the Romans. And as you likely know, the smaller parade that Jesus led while riding on a donkey while surrounded by cheering children as well as adults, was a protest against the military show of power.
There was more to that day, however. After Jesus comes through the lesser gate of Jerusalem on a much lesser steed than Pilate (a donkey versus a powerful military horse), he enters the temple and makes a mess. He’s angry because instead of the temple being filled with prayers, it has become a place of commerce for the rich and power grabbing for the elite. Jesus didn’t just get angry and trash the place though. After he drove out who he called “robbers” from the temple, the story tells us that, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”
His goal wasn’t just to make a spectacle. He was making room for the work of God and for the people who were least likely to be allowed into the temple or to be accepted if they got in.
The power of God and the house of God was and is meant for those who desire to be a part of the community and to experience Holy Love and Presence. It’s never to be reduced to a seat of power where people are silenced or minimized in order to recognize that power and to be put in their place.
This story is in all four of our Gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all position it when Jesus is making his protest parade through the lesser gate into Jerusalem. John, however, makes it Jesus’ first public act as a leader. It comes just after he turns water into wine at the wedding at the behest of his mom.
There aren’t many stories which make it into all four gospels. Why is this one so important to all the writers? I think it’s because it shows Jesus’ heart as a leader. The temple building is symbolic of God’s presence. It’s where you go to meet with God – to perform rituals, to pray, and to gather for celebrations. Jesus drives out those who were exploiting the poor and then he offers direct access to those who were spurned and mistreated. He personally attends to them.
This foreshadows what’s about to happen when he dies on the cross on Good Friday. According to the synoptic gospels, which is what we call the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the ones which put the cleansing of the temple episode on the day of the parade – when Jesus dies, the curtain which separates the holy place from the holy of holies in the temple is ripped in two, allowing access to the place which held the very presence of God.
This was a place that God had instructed to be created to reside in when the temple was being designed. Just like the bread and the cup that we have for communion, which we understand to be symbolic and not literal, this Holy of Holies section of the temple was symbolic as God’s official apartment, not literal. How could God, in all God’s Godness, be contained?
It’s similar to this building we call the church. It’s our gathering place. Our praying place. And because of our activities here, the essence of God feels stronger here for a lot of people, myself included. But this isn’t a place to hold God captive. Holy Love is everywhere and can’t be contained. We should never insist that God is more here than anywhere else, let alone exclusively here. However, it’s a place where we might be able to focus better. A place where the years of prayers, rituals, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and so many other meaningful events help to guide us toward the essence of the presence of Holy Love.
When Jesus decried the habits of the those in the temple, it was in order to let the vulnerable have access to a place that was supposed to be set aside for prayer – for contact with God and the community of faith. He was making room and creating a safer space for them by removing those who for so many years had taken advantage of them by treating their prayers as a financial exchange with God rather than a spirit to spirit engagement.
The day Jesus was the grand marshall of the counter protest of the military power of Pilate, he also protested religious elite’s exclusive approach to who had access to the place of prayer and who didn’t. But he didn’t stop at protesting. He then welcomed the people who he made room for.
This is what we celebrate today. Inclusion. Welcome. Centering those who have been dismissed and marginalized. We celebrate the protest too. The cheering children who feel like their voice matters. The adults who add their energies to the song and reach for the palm branches to wave in support. God is not held captive to the whims of a few powerful persons. Today we celebrate by remembering that there is room enough for all of us who want to pray, to love, to march in the parade, and to bind our hearts together in the call for human dignity.
Happy Palm Sunday, my friends. There is room for you.