All We Have
All we have is this one story.
Once a year we come back to this same movement, the part where everything finally changes forever – so the story goes. The holiest week of the year, where those who profess the Christian faith, or find themselves Christian adjacent, remember when the man named Jesus, resolutely entered into Jerusalem to square off with the sinister powers of sin and death.
Today, Palm Sunday, we mark the Sunday of the Lenten journey. For 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus is said to have waged war with Satan in the wilderness. In the desert Jesus is said to have faced off with evil, and on our behalf, overcome it all. It’s the classic hero’s journey – the descent into darkness where the hero faces off with their shadow to prove their honor, their integrity, their worthiness. Except Jesus doesn’t face off with his shadow, instead he stares into the face of humanity’s. Jesus gazes deeply into the eyes of humanity’s bloodlust, its craving for power, and its devouring greed. Jesus, with love in his eyes, looks deep into humanity’s willingness to test the Divine, and releases a sigh of grave discontent that would ultimately lead to his death. In the wilderness Jesus sought to cast light on our shadow and heal us of our affliction. Satan, the supreme tempter and harbinger of evil, departs at the end of his tête a tête with our hero, and as Luke records, he waited for a more opportune time.
For who, I wonder? Jesus had already bested Satan, and it was clearly no contest. This man Jesus could come against the Evil One at any given moment, and win. There was no question there. The more opportune time, perhaps, is at the end of this holiest of weeks.
Jesus, after three years of telling fantastical tales of a new kingdom where there is justice and healing and beauty, a world where empire has dissolved into dust and there is no more weeping for lives taken from us too early by the state, or crippled into submission by the church, after three years, Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem. The Gospel authors indicate that this was the plan all along. Jesus intended to travel all throughout the Judean countryside, weaving in and out of Gentile cities, and making his way known in the forgotten towns and village of the Roman occupied Levant.
Luke 19 is the story of when our hero finally arrives at the front door of the center of power. Jerusalem, the seat of religious authority and roman occupation. It begins with a tale of a man in a tree who quickly understands that the kingdom that Jesus speaks of is one that demands that reparations and restitution go hand in hand with repentance. It follows with a strange parable about a man who seeks power from a distant land and would have his enemies slaughtered in his presence. It is a strange, uncanny, and violent series of tales that immediately precede Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem’s gate.
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem like a warrior. The Tender One who weeps and heals, arrives at the Holy City with warfare in his eyes. There is no getting around the militant overtones of Jesus’ arrival in the city. It is a bizarre image. Like a conquering king, Jesus proceeds into the city to the shouts and praise of the crowds. “Blessed is the King, who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout. Beneath the surface, however, of this imperial march are signs of deep subversion. Like Moses out of the wilderness, proceeded back into Egypt to face pharaoh, riding on the back of donkey, Jesus now marches in, to face off with Empire. Here, riding on the back of a donkey, Jesus harkens back to the commencement of the liberating work of God. In one movement, Jesus makes a mockery of military power, and seeks to rid the world of it.
Fearing the unprecedented support of the crowd, leaders in the community demand that Jesus order the crowds to cease their worship of him. Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
All we have is this one story. A story so desperate to be told, that even in the silence of eager crowds, the earth would cry out. The stones of the city would tell this story – the story of victory in the face of what appears to be imminent defeat.
In a world bathed in stories and new cycles of on-going violence and vitriol, it is easy to get lost in the despair and anguish of it all. It seems like Satan’s opportune time was after the great events of Holy Week wrapped up. Waiting for Jesus to take his leave so that evil might wreak havoc on the vulnerable and the dispossessed. For two thousand years since the events of Holy Week, the world has seen more than its fair share of evil. The pages of history are filled with the stories of anguish and hardship and struggles against violence and oppression.
Somedays, it’s hard to find hope. Somedays, it’s hard to find the energy to keep fighting. When all we have is this one story of Jesus’ victory march and the two thousand years of nightmares that follow, it’s hard to find hope.
And yet for two thousand years, folks scattered across the world have found hope in this story. Hope, that somehow Jesus’ victorious arrival in Jerusalem, would mean that one day too, he would arrive in victory to bring an end to the oppression beyond Jerusalem. Over and over again, people have found inspiration in the possibility of a King arriving on a donkey to say to empire, “enough is enough.” And we can see, tucked away in the stories of history, that yes evil has reigned supreme for so long, but giants do fall, empire does collapse, and evil will eventually be brought into submission to justice.
All we have is this one story. The story that the stones cry out about. The story of a hero who gave it all. And perhaps this story is enough to go off of. To find hope for this harsh world in. And for the days that it’s not enough, that’s okay too.