Flattery, Destruction and shouting stones

Palm sunday

When Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem and the crowds go wild for him that must be a huge moment of affirmation. They know who he is and they are celebrating the Son of David, the King of Kings. In Luke’s version of the events we know as Palm Sunday, some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to silence his followers, to stop them shouting their praises and he responds “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40). Jesus knows who he is, not because the people are waving their palm branches at him and lining his route with their cloaks, but because it is the truth. Regardless of whether anyone recognises him as the Messiah or not, the whole of creation knows that he is God with us, and so even if the people don’t celebrate it, the stones will shout aloud.

The thing about Palm Sunday is that it very quickly turns to the events of Holy Week, and as many a preacher will say this week, the cries of “hosanna” will soon turn into the cries of “crucify him”. There is nothing as fickle, or as scary, as a crowd whipped up into a frenzy. If Jesus is looking for affirmation, he doesn’t find it in the crowd, he doesn’t even find it in the 12 disciples who betray him and desert him. I once heard June Osborne, the Dean of Salisbury, say that in ministry you get a lot of flattery and you get a lot of destructive criticism and that it’s really important not to absorb either. Jesus’ journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday embodies the extremes of flattery and destruction. The people who flattered and cheered were the same people who spat and jeered.

So it really matters that Jesus knows who he is. I don’t necessarily mean that at that moment he knows that he is fully God as God is and fully human as we are; but he knows that he is the Messiah. He knows that what he does will affect all of creation. And he knows this is true whatever anyone else is saying. When we try to discern what God is calling us to, we listen to the voices around us. The voices that flatter and the voices that criticise might be the loudest voices, but they are not the ones to rely on. Sometimes the voices that flatter and criticise are ours, we tell ourselves things that can get in the way of hearing what God is saying. What is it that is true, regardless of what anyone else says? What is it that the stones are shouting? What is it that in both the times of greatest affirmation, and the worst rejection and betrayal is still true?

As we journey with Jesus through the events of Holy Week, as we share in his crucifixion on Good Friday and in his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, what is it that we are being called to? As we experience the lows of vulnerability, rejection, humiliation and defeat, and the highs of victory, triumph and love which conquers death, what is true throughout all of that? What are the stones shouting, and what shall we do about it?

LH

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