A Sermon for Palm Sunday, 10th April 2022
As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road Luke 19:36
How much of our life is spent travelling roads? How many of our memories are connected to roads?
As Jesus rides into Jerusalem and looks down at the road strewn with cloaks to welcome him, what roads might he have remembered? Journeying is often a time for thinking and in the many. many hours Jesus would have spent walking the roads there must have been countless things he saw and heard and had cause to ponder. As he rode into Jerusalem on that Sunday morning, perhaps there were particular times that came to mind—times of opportunity, times of challenge, times of frustration, times of heartbreak.
The road was a place where people went to meet Jesus, it was a place where he encountered people from every background, it was a place of unlikely opportunity.
Bartimaeus sat at the roadside because it was his opportunity to beg for a few coins each day in order that he might buy food to eat. Mark Chapter 10 Verse 46 tells us, ‘As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging’.
Jesus comes along and Bartimaeus realizes that this is his one opportunity to have a different life; he shouts and he shouts and he causes embarrassment, but it’s worth it. Bartimaeus is called to Jesus and, perhaps for the first time in Bartimaeus’ adult life, he is treated as a person of dignity. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asks and Bartimaeus asks that he might see.
How many such encounters along the road had Jesus had during the course of his ministry? How many times had there been moments along the road when people’s lives might have been changed forever if they had just asked? As he rode into Jerusalem, did he ponder those who had passed him by, too proud or too afraid to take the opportunity offered? As he had looked down on the city of Jerusalem and had lamented that it had rejected him, did he now lament the opportunities people had spurned, the chances they had not taken? As he looked at those who lined the road, what did he see in their faces?
Do we see journeys as moments of opportunity? Do we see people as Jesus saw them? Or are we like those who tried to silence Bartimaeus, not wanting a faith that causes us embarrassment?
Growing up in a small rural community, among the people of Galilee, roads travelled would have been familiar, unchallenging places, but once he begins his ministry, Jesus takes to the open road. Being public places, the roads Jesus’ travelled were places of challenge; places, sometimes, of confrontation.
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem had been a time of challenge. Luke Chapter 9 Verse 51 tells us, ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’.
It was a journey that would have taken Jesus and his friends through a Samaritan village, but the sectarian feelings are strong and the Samaritans do not want this group of Jews staying in their community. The disciples’ reaction is to meet bitterness with bitterness, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” they ask in verse 54. Jesus, we are told, turned and rebuked them and they instead go to another village.
Jesus is challenged to use power destructively, to assert himself, to show his true potential, and he turns away; this is not to be the way. Not only does he turn away, but he challenges his disciples about their attitudes. If this is to be their response, then they have not understood why they are now travelling the road to Jerusalem.
Jesus has to explain in clear terms the challenge involved in walking with him. Luke Chapter 9 Verse 57 says, ‘As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”’ Jesus explains to the man what hardship that would mean and then challenges those who would make excuses .
Jesus sees the road as a place where the faith of his friends will be dangerously challenged, ‘Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road, he warns them in Luke Chapter 10 Verse 3-4. Roads that had been familiar, that had been places of opportunity are now seen as places of threatening danger.
What about ourselves? Where does our faith challenge us to go? Perhaps not in distance, but in commitment?
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, as he looked at the crowds who would today cheer at him and, in five days’ time, desert him, might he have recalled the sense of frustration he must have felt at times as he had walked with his friends? Mark Chapter 9 Verse 33 points to how he might have felt, ‘They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” The disciples do not respond to the question and Mark explains why, ‘they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest’.
Jesus must have felt at least a degree of exasperation that people who had spent so long in his company, who had listened to his teaching, who had walked many roads with him, still did not understand; did not, or would not, accept the implications of what he was saying. ‘Sitting down,’, Mark tells us, ’Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
As Jesus rode along that Sunday morning, might he have remembered that moment, when, like a school teacher talking to a class of children, he had to sit down and talk to them in terms they should not have failed to understand. If they had not understood then, in a few days they would fully understand what it meant to be servant of all.
In our culture, to be the least is something to be avoided, who of us wants to end up at the bottom of the pile? But has Jesus cause to feel frustration at our attitudes?
Opportunity, challenge, frustration—what we also see in Scripture is growing heartbreak on the part of Jesus. The crowd meets him on this Palm Sunday, ‘When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olive says Luke in Chapter 19 Verse 37, but that joyful moment on the road is very brief. The Pharisees challenge Jesus about his friends’ behaviour and he says in Verse 40, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Then, Luke tells us, ‘As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it’. As we read the story of Jesus in these final days of his earthly ministry, how often do we ever stop to ask ourselves what might have been going through Jesus’ mind? Do we ever try to imagine what it might have been like to see things through his eyes? Can we imagine the heartbreak in knowing the truth as he did?
Of course, the story does not end with heartbreak, it does not end at Calvary, it does not end with the sad walk to the tomb.
Jesus will walk with his friends again, in a week’s time, he will walk the road to Emmaus with two of his friends and when he breaks bread and disappears from their view they will ask themselves, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
May our hearts burn within us we walk the roads with Jesus this Holy Week, knowing that he still walks with us.
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