Gospel for Passion Sunday (20 March 2016)
Gospel notes by Michael Whelan SM
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”
Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:28-40 – NRSV)
All four Gospels have similar accounts of Jesus entering Jerusalem – see Matthew 21:1–9, Mark 11:1–10 and John 12:12–19.
We are reminded of the Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9); “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; ....” (14:4). Though Luke lacks the explicit reference to Zechariah found in Matthew 21:4-5.
There is also a suggestion of the Prophet Isaiah: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” (40:9).
Luke omits any reference to the waving of branches found in the other three Gospels – see Mark 11:8, Matthew 21:8 and John 12:13. Luke does not want the proclamation of the “king” and the “kingdom” to be confused with any earthly kingdom. God’s kingdom is being announced here. Even if you stop the disciples from announcing it, “the stones will shout out”. There is an inevitability about the coming of the kingdom.
he sent two of the disciples: Luke speaks often of Jesus sending his disciples to do something; the verb is apostellō meaning “to send”. We find a similar use in Luke 22:8 where Peter and John are sent to prepare for the Passover. See also 4:18, 43; 7:20, 27; 9:2, 48, 52; 10:1, 3, 16; 11:49, etc.
the whole multitude of the disciples: The small group of disciples of 8:1-3 has expanded to a “multitude” as the Gospel approaches its climax.
the disciples began to praise God joyfully: In Luke joy is a common response to manifestations of God’s presence – see 1:14; 2:10; 6:23; 8:13; 10:17, 20; 13:17; 19:6. Praising God is similar used by Luke – see 2:13, 20; 18:43; 24:53; Acts 2:47; 3:9.
all the deeds of power that they had seen: “Power” (dynameis) is associated with the Holy Spirit. See references to this power at work in Jesus and others – 4:14, 36; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 9:1; 10:13, 19. In Acts 2:22, Peter will speak of Jesus as a man certified by “deeds of power, wonders, and signs.”
One of the more telling lines in the Gospels is found in an earlier part of Luke: “(Jesus) set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Similar references to his journey to Jerusalem are also found in Luke 13:22, 17:11, 18:31, 19:11 and in today’s Gospel – “he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem” (19:28).
Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem as “the holy city” (52:1). Jerusalem is the place of the Temple, the great symbol of the fulfilment of God’s promise to the people: “I will be with you!”. “In Jerusalem will I put my name” (2 Kings 21:4). In the Book of Revelations reference is made to “the new Jerusalem” (21:2 & 10), suggesting its prominence in the minds of those first Jewish disciples of Jesus.
Jesus’ “going up to Jerusalem” is charged with deep significance. This is not a matter of mere functionality. We cannot reduce it to a project, with aims and objectives and a goal to be achieved by intelligent and purposeful application.
This is God’s work. It does not fit any models of successful human projects. In fact, it all seems mad if we apply the functional logic of our world to it. As the Australian poet, Les Murray, has noted, God’s idea of success is the Cross. And so we see that Jesus is not distracted or seduced by the celebrity status accorded him on his entry into Jerusalem. “His face is set”.
If Jesus was just a political revolutionary or even a miracle worker, there would be no substance to our faith. We believe he is the Son of God, that his journey to Jerusalem and beyond has cosmic significance. As Cardinal Walter Kasper reminds us, we are at the mysterious heart of our faith here:
“If we take the testimony of the New Testament consistently as our starting point and if we make this testimony the basis for the speculative development of our faith in Christ, then we must take seriously the fact that the Gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions (M Kähler). The cross is then not simply the consequence of the earthly ministry of Jesus but the very goal of the incarnation; it is not something adventitious but the very meaning and purpose of the Christ-event, so that everything else is ordered to it as a goal. God would not have become truly a human being had he not entered fully into the abyss and night of death.” (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, Crossroad, 1986, 189.)
Jesus “has gone on ahead”. To be His follower, indeed to be Church, is to be one with Him in his “going up to Jerusalem”.