Sometimes letting love live is picking a fight – not for selfish ego-driven need or revenge, but to bring about a greater good for the very people with whom you are picking a fight.
Like a teacher with students, a tradesperson with an apprentice, a boss with an employees, sometimes the loving thing needed is to raise that difficult issue about attitude or work practice or personality, not to be mean or vindictive or powerful, but to help them see the issue; the truth; what you are saying, who you are and what the goal really is.
Jesus seems to be deliberately picking a fight.
I notice two groups of people around this procession into the city:
- the people shouting those ‘hosanna’s’, including his own travelling band, and those not singing along at all;
- the Jewish and Roman authorities who hold the power and have the most to lose.
Jesus’ stirs them both up to get them ready for the truth of who he is and what he is going to do for all of them.
Quite often, you need to be stirred up a bit to hear the truth of a thing.
Like when you are riding in a group of bikers, out on the open road with other road users, if you are the lead bike, you need to know how to get the group safely around slower moving vehicles.
If you yourself just ease past and then pull back in to the left lane in front of the truck you have just passed, without taking into account that four other blokes need to fit in to that small space behind you between you and the trucks you just passed, it is dangerous for other guys. The two couple of guys might have nowhere to go – very bad!
I was in the lead one day. There were five of us. I eased around a truck and did not think about the blokes coming behind me. It was a reasonably busy day on the highway. My mate pulled up along side me once I was around and pointed forward with some enthusiasm. I did not get it and so he took the lead. We stopped for the obligatory pie at the bakery. He ‘shared his concern’ about my leading skills! I got it. Sometimes you need someone to stir you up so you can discover a truth that makes you better at what you need to do!
Jesus stirs the city up. Matthew is really clear on this.
After all the ministry in the Galilee region (4:17—20:34), Jesus now enters Jerusalem.
He has announced multiple times that he will go to Jerusalem, or ‘Mount Zion’ (Matthew 21:1). It is the centre of provincial Judean power (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19). There the Rome-sanctioned local city council, led by the Roman governor reside.
Those kingly words from the prophet Zechariah (ch 9-14) are front and centre.
Evoking this word from Zechariah speaks of a clash with what is, and a promise of what will come. God will have his victory over Rome. But even more, God will overcome the values of Rome which these Jewish leaders and probably this crowd seem to be living in.
Rome is all about imperial greatness; supremacy over enemies; military domination and conquest; “power over others” as the basis of society; courage in battle; violence, submission, enslavement, and subjugation of the enemy.
This word from Zechariah is about a battle in which God, the divine warrior and king, conquers all the nations hostile to Israel.
Like a King, Jesus;
- orders two subordinates to procure the donkey and colt (Matthew 21:2).
- foresees and addresses a possible opposition coming (21:3).
- exercises unquestioning authority over people and animals (21:1-3) and they obey without question(21:6).
- executes a processional entry usually reserved for elite ruling figures (21:8-11) that occurs just as he anticipated it (21:6-7)
- and attacks the Rome-sanctioned, temple-based rulers (turning over of the trading tables in the temple area, 21:12-17).
All of this is echoing what the Romans called angareia: when Roman imperial officials such as governors and military figures requisitioned labor, transport (animals, ships, carts), supplies, and lodging from the people under their thumb (like the Jewish community in Judea and Galilee. The locals hated this arrogance of power. I am sure we would too!
Jesus employs angareia, but not with force and ego, instead, with suffering and serving. He conquers with completely different belief, values and goal.
Over the next week, he will do it his way for a whole new way to be a community of human beings – not based on domination, force, power and might, but love; self-giving, self-sacrificing love and its gifts of forgiveness, serving, caring, truthful telling in love that casts out all fear.
Sure, a crowd hails him as king. They spread cloaks on the ground and wave branches. They chant Psalm 118:25 which praises God for victory over the nations. They too seems to be captured by Roman angareia.
Jesus marches into the centre of life – the temple (Matthew 21:8-11), but the differences are there. They hint at another way to win new life and hope for a conflicted world….
First clues are those donkeys. Jesus rides not a war horse but an everyday beast of burden.
The crowds are there, but not the right type. The crowds of mere common folk welcoming. There will be speeches of welcome from elite leaders of giving of the keys to the city!
There is a procession, but the wrong guy is at the centre. Jesus is not an elite figure. He is not authorized by the dominant ruling power. In fact, he is a direct challenge to it. He represents God’s purposes, not Rome’s, and they sense it.
Jesus is picking a fight with those who believe they rule by right because of might and those who want him to do and be the same.
It goes on…
Jesus’ immediately does something offensive and shocking.
He drives out the hundreds of traders selling and buying (Matthew 21:12). He is challenging the very heart of commerce of the country, right under the noses of the Roman rule.
Then Jesus turns to the tables of the money changers and sellers of doves/pigeons (Matthew 21:12b) and overturns them. He is protesting the temple economy as sustaining the temple leadership’s vast reach that maintains an unjust and oppressive society.
He then raises up what society should be like as he speaks two Old Testament texts
‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,”[e] but you are making it “a den of robbers.”[f]’
‘“From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise”[g]?’
The first one comes from Isaiah’s vision of an inclusive society which includes even the eunuch and foreigner (Isaiah 56). The temple has failed to be that place for the people.
The second one speaks Jeremiah’s temple sermon that attacks social injustices and oppression, as well as making the temple a ‘god’ to which the people cling more than God himself! (Jeremiah 7:1-15)
Jesus accuses the temple leaders of making the temple a hideout for terrorists or bandits (Matthew 21:13b). The ‘bandit bankers’ are destroying people’s lives by the way they live.
Jesus is letting love live by picking a fight, for sure. But why?
Surely it is not to inflate his ego, mis-lead people, be nasty because he can.
Surely it is to show a different vision of being human – not one of Roman values; our greatness; supremacy over your enemies; domination and conquest in business, church, community, politics; “power over others” as the basis of society; courage in a battle; violence if needed, submission by others to you, enslavement of anyone deemed ‘lesser’ than you…
This King will now go on to give all power away for this city, all divine supremacy over these human enemies, any domination or rule by force as he willingly suffers great injustice, endures violence and shows the greatest courage in this greatest of all battle for the life of the world he came to serve because he loved the place and the people.
He will love. He will let love of another kind live.
And he will love both groups of people.
Which crowd do you find yourself with today? Wanting a show of power from Jesus to fix that thing and fix you or resistant person because he is calling you to lose something – maybe even lose a lot for the sake of his love in his mission.
Who is king in your life?
To whom or what do you sing “Hosanna – “Save me”?
Who do you regard lesser than you? With whom do consider yourself lesser?
I hear this truth: Servant King Jesus loves enough me to challenge me – not to be mean, but to set me free from my ‘Roman’ values that come so naturally to me in my broken misinformed humanness.
He is urging us to sing – not for a show of irrefutable strength and power on the world’s terms, but sing for God’s help, God’s presence, God’s promises to be fulfilled in my world and in my life. I pray that you can sing that prayer today.
He may be picking a fight with you or us today – exposing the dark values and behaviours. He is doing it to show you his behaviour borne from love for you this holy week so you are free to live and free to love because you know you are freely loved by this King of all kings.
I read this great quote. It is a prayer…
Lord, both successes and difficulty bring out things in my heart that are appalling. You saw them in there all along, and yet you loved me. You saw me to the bottom but loved me into heaven. How great is your love! (Tim Keller)
He sees you at your worst and loves you his most.
He is calling forth praise from you this week.