Welcome to Holy Week. This is the last leg of race, the home stretch. Our journey has led us to the same place it led Jesus: Jerusalem. I want to use this post to reflect on the importance of this week in the biblical text and what we can learn from it today.
All of the Gospel narratives have one important aspect in common: the focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross. In the book of Mark, the pace is incredibly quick for the first half of the book right until Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. At that point, the narrative comes to a drastic slow down as the story attempts to explain the importance of that declaration. In Luke, the entire book is structured around Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It is one long march into hostile territory as Jesus tries to remind his oblivious disciples that the story will not end well. John takes a different approach (like always) and has Jesus visit Jerusalem three times, but the last visit takes up almost a third of the book. Jerusalem is a big deal for all of our authors.
I want to focus specifically on Luke’s account, since his journey motif coincides well with my understanding of Lent as a journey. First, I want to look at how Jesus’ enters the city of Jerusalem. Those of us who know the Palm Sunday story know very well that Jesus rides in on a colt, but that imagery is striking considering the context. People are wondering if he is the Messiah, the one who will free them from the oppression of Rome, and they welcome him as such – with palm branches and greetings fit for their new leader. Many would expect a figure of this magnitude make his entrance as glorious as possible, but he chooses to ride in not on a mighty steed, but a lowly colt. As Jesus has been trying to communicate to his followers his whole journey, he is the Messiah, but he is not the Messiah they are hoping for.
Within Jerusalem, the first thing that Jesus does is go to the temple, where he encounters people trying to profit off the temple by selling things for sacrifices. What follows is the well known story of Jesus flipping tables and casting out those he refers to as “robbers.” Again, while this story is well known, it’s context in the Lukan narrative gives it a ton of meaning in that the first thing this new “king” does upon entering his city is trash what was a well established system. People who may have been welcoming him with open arms and palm branches minutes before have to be taken aback by this scene: “What kind of king is this? I thought he was supposed to save us, not make a mockery of us.” While his disciples may have wanted him to play it cool in the city where many of enemies lived, Jesus does not back down on his message. After doing this, he spends his next few days teaching at the temple, so not only does he attempt to remove the corrupt system in place, he establishes his presence there to create a new atmosphere. No wonder the religious elites begin their plot to kill him.
The last aspect I want to look at is Jesus’ engagement with those same religious elites, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus has encountered many of them up until now, but that has always been on his turf – outside the walls of Jerusalem. The Pharisees who encounter Jesus out there were there to scope him out and report back to Jerusalem. When Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem, he knows what he is getting into. He knows that his message won’t fly well with all of the religious elites. He knows that flipping tables is going to rattle them. He knows they will want to kill him for it. Luke 20-21 show the amplification of Jesus’ interactions with the elites as they try with all their might to trip him up and get the people to turn on him. They try to get him to say something heretical or to make claims that could be misinterpreted as approval of Roman occupation, the very thing the people were hoping he would save them from. They provide trials and temptations for Jesus much in the same way the devil tried at the beginning of the journey, but remarkably, Jesus remains loyal to his Father’s message. The trials at the beginning of the journey have prepared him for these moments: in hostile territory under the pressure from one side to be the king they want and from the other side to conform to the religious and political ideals of the elites. Not only does he remain unshaken, he calls the elites out even more, concluding his public teaching with an incredible rebuttal of their corruption.
So what is there to learn from this? First, we must remain faithful to God’s message, even in the face of extreme pressure from those in power, whether they be religious or political. Jesus challenges corrupt leaders and laws when they do not uphold the standard that Father sets them to and we should be willing to do the same. The second thing is that we should not be afraid. I can only imagine the nerves my Savior had as he walked into Jerusalem that last time. The fact that he remained faithful through all of it gives me the courage to follow in his footsteps. And third, we can have hope that God sees us. He sees the world we are living in and knows the pain that it brings us. He knows that it’s not perfect and he went into Jerusalem to give us a better, eternal world and the hope to one day be there. He knows our struggles because he has been here before us.
Jesus is in Jerusalem this week. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.