April 13th, 2014
Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11
The Rev. Rob Fisher; St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Any region that you may visit or live in has its own special passions and concerns. In any given place, there will be certain things that really excite the people who live there—things that might not interest people in other places.
For instance, there are fierce debates in San Francisco about where to find the best burrito in the city.
In Los Angeles, people seem to get excited about access to celebrity.
In DC people get excited about access to power.
In New York, people get very animated with the topic of public transit.
When we first moved to Carmel Valley I found it very endearing to discover that if you want to get people excited, ask them what they are growing in their garden! Right after we arrived, people brought eggs from their chickens to share, and fruit and vegetables from their land.
(Yesterday at the work day, I was reacquainting myself with the joys of weeding, and two parishioners that I was working with got into a very animated talk about varieties of bushes, or at least that is what I think they were talking about. One variety gets eaten by deer; one does not—but that depends on if the deer are from the highlands or from deep in the Valley!)
I think it must be fate that Sarah, my wife, would end up here. When she was living in New York before I met her, she had a garden on her fire escape outside her apartment window.
A few days ago, we did some planting in our own back yard. Though I have seen it before, it still amazes me to watch the miracle of how a tiny, feeble seedling can use the energy of sun and water and those nutrients in the soil to be transformed into a glorious growing plant.
The compost we were using was probably a little too fresh, if you know what I mean, so it was pretty nasty. Still, the little plants seem to be taking well, and that nastiness is going to turn into tomatoes and strawberries and other wonderful things that never could be guessed at if we didn’t have some deeper knowledge of how this whole system works.
To know about growing things is to know that there really is more than meets the eye.
In 63 BC, Jerusalem was been taken over by the Roman Empire, which means that it was under Roman control for nearly 100 years before the day that we just reenacted when Jesus entered the city for the last time.
All of Jesus’ activity in the New Testament is set in the context of an occupied land.
Now the Roman Empire was very wise about power. The Romans realized that it was better to not destroy the religions of the people they ruled over. Their practice was to leave religions intact, but to coopt them. This proved to be a more insidious and effective way to control the people.
In the case of Jews, the Roman Empire established its own leaders to be in control. The Romans appointed the high priests. They also established taxes and fees to go toward the Empire. The temple system, which was the heart of Judaism, included temple fees when Jews went to worship, and those fees were then used to build other temples to Caesar or various Roman gods. This is partly why Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers in the temple and calls it a den of thieves!
When Jesus speaks against the temple we need to understand that he is not speaking against Judaism. He is speaking against the corrupting powers of this world.
The whole New Testament pits these two powers against each other, the obvious power of worldly might, and the hidden power of divine love.
Jerusalem was a city of only about 40,000, but during the week of Passover, as many as 200,000 Jews would come to be in the city. Therefore, the Roman Empire needed to be there in force during that week to make sure that there would not be a riot. Passover was a precarious time in a city that was a cultural flash point.
Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the text of the New Testament, scholars have pointed out that at the same moment that Jesus entered the city on a donkey, there was another procession on the other side of the city that looked very different, as Pontius Pilate, who did not usually reside in Jerusalem, entered the city in a procession that was a show of power.
If you only have the ability to see what is on the surface, you would think that the Roman Empire would be the victor here. But like in gardening, there is more than meets the eye.
As Bill Coffin succinctly put it, “Easter [is about] the victory of seemingly powerless love over loveless power.”
Great things are about to unfold this week. We are about to see a miracle. But like gardeners we have to look deeply, and to have patience and faith to behold what God has set before our eyes.
Like a seed, Christ will subject himself to going down in order to rise up transformed. And he invites us to join him for the journey.