Sunday, April 5, 2009

If We Keep Quiet - a Palm Sunday Thought

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. A week of irony, of contrasts, and of course of the critical events in human history. Until this week, Jesus has led a ministry of preaching and miracles, of healing and touching, of reaching out and calling followers. But what He has not done yet is fully accept His royal title. He is still - certainly to those outside His immediate band - more Clark Kent than He is Superman. He is not completely under wraps, but He has not allowed the full message of His identity to be declared.

Think about it... Jesus has healed and then told those healed to tell no one. Transfigured into His full glory for a moment before His closest apostles, He begs them to tell no one of the event for the time being. When given an opportunity to display His wonders, He has responded that His "hour has not yet come." In the Gospel of John, we are repeatedly told that people attempted to seize Jesus at various times, but because His "time had not yet come," He simply drifted away from them.

Now, Jesus' time has come. He is voluntarily marching to His own destruction. I heard a wonderful illustration today, relating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to the first responders' rush into the burning, falling buildings on 9-11. While the crowd ran one way, away from the flames, they rushed in. So too is Jesus heading into certain death. His time has come.

But if the time for His sacrifice has come, so too has the time for Him to step into His full role as King arrived. Before entering Jerusalem, he meets blind Bartimaeus, who asks for healing and calls Jesus the "son of David," a clear reference to His royalty. While others tried to shush Bartimaeus, tellingly Jesus does not. A man who walked everywhere, Jesus now rides a donkey, the animal of royalty and the one prophesied by Zechariah as the messiah's steed. Jesus now hears and accepts the cries of "Hosannah" from the people, and He tells nobody to keep quiet.

This week will continue with the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus' only miracle done solely to show off His power in order to inspire faith; the cleansing of the Temple, something that only one with authority would dare; and the anointing by Mary, an act Jesus accepts because He is worthy of it and because she is properly preparing His royal body for its burial.

And in the midst of this week is this unusual statement the fully recognized Jesus makes to the Pharisees when they command Him to rebuke the disciples' cry of "Hosanna." Jesus says: "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." (Luke 19:40)

I think Jesus has at least four different meanings here.

First, I think Jesus knows His scripture. He is joining with the Psalmist, who has written of how the heavens declare the glory of God, and with Isaiah, who has told of how the trees of the field will clap their hands. Jesus is understanding the cry of creation in praise of the creator. St. Francis would later write, "All creatures of our God and King lift up your voice and with us sing 'Alleluia.'" Jesus is making something of the same point.

Second, I think Jesus is giving a warning, a lesson if you will, to His disciples. They - and by extension we - are it. If they - and we - keep quiet, there will be nothing but the rocks left to praise Him, no one else to proclaim, to worship, to declare. If we keep our voices silent, there will be nobody else to take up the call.

Third, and in keeping with Jesus' finally taking on the mantle of the King, I think Jesus is enjoying - celebrating even - the praise of His people. There is a little "in your face" to the Pharisees here, a hint of, as Tim Rice puts it in the rock opera, "Don't waste your breath moaning at the crowd. Nothing can be done to stop the shouting. If every tongue were stilled the noise would still continue... the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing 'Hosanna'.'" It is not self-righteous, for Jesus is uniquely deserving. It is simply the King's accepting the adulation of His subjects, and the Pharisees best shut up about it.

Fourth, and most ominous, I believe that Jesus is foreshadowing the coming Friday. I do not know how many of those cheering on Sunday were a part of the crowd yelling "crucify" on Thursday, but I do know that those who would support Jesus, those followers and disciples who had so far stood by Him, were quiet when the chips were down, when it mattered. Even if they did not join the throngs yelling for His blood, they did not stand up and fight for His release. They were silent. And, of course, Jesus ended up on a cross. And, Matthew tells us, at the moment of Jesus' death, "the earth shook and the rocks split." Chilling, isn't it? Do you see it?... If the disciples' voices are silent, the stones will cry out. Not in joy, as the Psalmist and the prophet had written, but instead in anguish... and pain ... and (dare I say it?) victory.

If we keep our voices silent, then will the very rocks cry out. It is a word of fulfillment of scripture, a lesson in proclamation, a celebration of the arrival of the King, and a recognition of the role of silence of His followers in leading to His death.

It is a good word to remember as we enter this Holy Week.

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