A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy Hammer, March 20, 2016 (Palm/Passion)
Luke 19:28-40, 45-47 ESV
There is a cute commercial running on television now about a little boy who keeps having accidents and mishaps. And after his mishaps, his mother asks him, “Honey, would some Captain D’s make you feel better?” And the little boy expresses his approval with the nod of his head and a sly grin. He loves going to Captain D’s so much that he is willing to do practically anything to gain his mother’s sympathy and get her to take him there, including taking a long pole and poking it in a hornet’s nest!
Now, I have stirred up a few bees’ nests over the years, and I have gotten stung a few times in doing so. But I have never intentionally stirred up a bees’ nest or walked into a hornets’ nest, so to speak. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing.
But if we expand our thinking a little bit, “walking into a hornets’ nest” can be a metaphor for confronting various situations in life that we know going into them are not going to be pleasant. Perhaps you have heard that expression. It is walking into a metaphorical hornets’ nest, and we know we have a pretty good chance of getting stung pretty badly.
Well, as we read the gospel accounts of the so-called passion week of Jesus (the last week of his life, in other words), if we can take the gospels at face value, it appears that Jesus knew exactly what he was walking into as he made his way toward Jerusalem. Now, it is not always possible to reconcile the four gospels as to the precise details surrounding the last week of Jesus’ life. But as Luke tells the story, at least, Jesus had forewarned the disciples three different times of what awaited him if he went to Jerusalem—two times in Luke chapter 9 (21-22, 43-45) and once in chapter 18 (31-34)—he expected to be rejected, mocked, and killed. So it appears that Jesus knew that by going to Jerusalem—the seat of religious-political authority—he was walking into a hornets’ nest.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, in their book titled The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, shed light on Jesus’ road to Jerusalem and how emotionally, spiritually and politically-charged that last week really was. You see, as Borg and Crossan explain it, the Jewish Temple was controlled by a collaboration of the high-ranking Jewish Temple officials and the Roman government. This collaboration had evolved into what Borg calls an unjust, corrupt and oppressive “domination system” that made the lives of people miserable. Instead of a blessing, religion had become a burden. And so, in going to Jerusalem, Jesus knew that his message and ministry of compassion and justice was bound to clash with the powers that be. But he did it anyway, aware of the dangers and likely consequences that awaited him.
And so, in the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was making a visual statement against Rome, which also staged an entry into Jerusalem the same week, as Pilate, the Roman Governor, rode into Jerusalem on a war horse. By going into the Temple area and driving out those who were selling animals for sacrifices and turning over the tables of the money changers (as some gospels tell it), Jesus knew he was inflaming the wrath of the Temple authorities. By foretelling the coming destruction of the Jewish Temple and Jerusalem itself, Jesus came off as being a religious and political subversive. And so, both the religious leaders and the political leaders were soon on the outs with Jesus and began “seeking how to put him to death” (Luke 22:2).
So then, the road to Jerusalem can become a metaphor for confronting, for walking into, a situation that we know is not going to be easy. Sometimes such a road is chosen because one feels he needs to address some great injustice that is being committed. Sometimes one may choose such a road in order to stand up to powers of evil. Sometimes one may choose such a road so as to stand with those who are being oppressed and taken advantage of in order to change the status quo. As we read closely the accounts of Jesus’ last week, it appears that in choosing the road to Jerusalem, he was attempting to do all of these things.
In the course of history, there have been others who have walked their own “Road to Jerusalem,” going against an unjust, corrupt, and oppressive system, knowing full well they were walking into trouble.
We could cite Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor whose “Road to Jerusalem” was speaking out against Adolf Hitler and seeking to lead a conspiracy that would result in Hitler’s downfall and death. But the plan of Bonhoeffer and his associates was found out, and he was imprisoned and killed by Hitler’s machine just a few days before Hitler’s fall.
We could cite Martin Luther King Jr, whose “Road to Jerusalem” was leading in the American Civil Rights Movement. King, like Jesus, seemed to know that the road he had chosen would end in death, proclaiming that he personally might not make it to the Promised Land with his people. His life was taken by an assassin’s bullet not long after that speech.
We could cite Oscar Romero, the Latin American Catholic Bishop, whose “Road to Jerusalem” was standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed of Central America by speaking out against poverty, social injustice, and the use of torture. Romero was assassinated while offering Mass in the Chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. Such are some of the better-known “Roads to Jerusalem” followers of Jesus have walked. There are others who could be mentioned, but these three make the point.
Yet, not all metaphorical “Roads to Jerusalem” are as sensational, dramatic, or large-scale as that of Bonhoeffer, King, or Romero. At one time or another, all of us may face metaphorical “Roads to Jerusalem” on a “smaller scale,” instances when we feel called to stand up against a situation that we feel is unjust, corrupt, prejudicial, or in some way oppressive. That quote by Edmund Burke has almost become commonplace and clichéd now, but holds a lot of truth nonetheless: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The “Road to Jerusalem;” in the metaphorical sense of the term. Have you ever been there? Or have you ever felt that you needed to go there, but just couldn’t muster up enough courage to do so? Allow me to cite a few examples to illustrate:
Suppose we are at a place of business waiting in line, maybe at an auto parts store, when we observe that a customer in front of us is being taken advantage of because of her gender, age, or obvious inexperience. We know the clerk is trying to sell her something she doesn’t really need or the most expensive option in the store because she doesn’t know any better. Do we intervene and confront the clerk, or at least suggest to the customer that she consider an alternative?
We are at a public meeting where people are standing up to speak their mind on some pressing issue. We observe that someone is overlooked or brushed off because of their race or religious affiliation. How do we feel about such discrimination? Do we speak out, or just hold our peace?
We are in a public place, maybe a nursing home or possibly a restaurant, when we observe an elderly person being verbally, emotionally, and perhaps even physically abused. Such an experience makes most of us feel horrible inside, probably angry, like we need to say or do something on the person’s behalf. But it is always hard to intervene in such a situation, isn’t it? Do we confront the abuser, or let it pass, since it is their business and not ours?
When we go to the polls to vote, at issue is voting for one who is opposed to versus one who is in support of legislation affecting the most vulnerable of our state. How do we cast our vote? We could continue with more examples, but these are enough to illustrate. Most of us face perplexing situations in our day-to-day lives involving injustice, corruption, oppression, or the plight of the weakest and most vulnerable of our society.
On this Palm Sunday and throughout this Passion Week, we are reminded that the road to Jerusalem became for Jesus the road to the cross because of his confrontation with the powers of injustice, corruption, and oppression. Some argue that it is the true way for any who would follow Jesus as well. That is, it behooves followers of Jesus to be passionate about what he was passionate about, passionate enough to likewise follow the metaphorical “Road to Jerusalem” by confronting those situations in our daily lives where we find injustice, corruption, oppression, and neglect of those who are most vulnerable. It is a hard road to travel. But may we have grace to do so when the situation calls for it. Amen.
Cited: Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.