Summary: The demonstrations on Palm Sunday show that good and evil cannot coexist easily; but there is always room for those who repent and receive grace.
Today the city is jammed with people who have come to demonstrate. They have a point of view, and they intend to speak their minds. It may be crowded, it may be inconvenient, it may disrupt business; but the issues are too important. The demonstrators will speak their minds, they will march for the cause in which they believe. If some have trouble with that, well, free speech is our right. If officials want to hide behind closed doors, so be it. The demonstrators will shout and march and parade until somebody hears them. Political institutions have to listen. The financiers have to respond. There are people hurting out there. Someone has to care. Never mind that it will crowd the city. Never mind that it is a security problem. This demonstration is going to happen.
Jerusalem, Passover, nearly two thousand years ago. Washington, Palm Sunday, today. The issues change, the moods swing, the players come and go. But one thing holds true – whenever someone stands to announce a wide-open invitation, there is trouble. Whenever someone offers a place at the table for everybody, those who are already at the table and who indeed think it is their table get uncomfortable. Jerusalem, Passover; Washington, Palm Sunday. Jerusalem, the invitation to come from east and west and north and south; Washington, hunger in India and sickness in Africa. The demonstration is about room for everyone at the table. Listen to what Jesus announced that day in Jerusalem:
Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.
A wide-open invitation. Come on, whoever you are, and feast in the kingdom of God. It is no accident that when Jesus proclaimed a welcome for everyone, things got tense. It is not hard to figure out why, when Jesus began to speak about everyone coming, they began to murmur about killing. Not hard to figure out at all, because entrenched privilege always acts that way. Power and privilege, once established, always feel threatened at the notion of others sharing in the goodies.
So are you surprised that after Jesus had told the powers that be in Jerusalem that many will come from all quarters and will be welcomed at the banquet table – are you surprised at this reaction?
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you."
“At that very hour.” It didn’t take long for the powers that be to assert their privileges. It didn’t take long for Herod to intimidate. It didn’t take long for death threats to show up. “At that very hour …” These guys were really threatened! “Get away from here.”
Some of you are old enough to remember those old Western movies, the ones in which there is clearly a good guy and a bad guy. I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the old Uptown movie house in Louisville, where for only a quarter I could get just about as much moral teaching as I would get the next morning in Sunday School. And the thing about those Western movies was, you didn’t have to waste any energy figuring out who was who. The good guy wore a white hat and stood tall, riding majestically into town on his sleek horse, accompanied by his faithful, politically incorrect, Indian sidekick. On the other hand, the bad guy wore a black hat and crouched low, drinking at the bar or cowering in a banker’s cage, accompanied by rough-looking scoundrels who said things like, “Yeah, boss, let’s get ‘em.” You knew that when the good guy rode into town, it was to do battle with the bad guy, whether the bad guy be an outlaw, a stingy banker, or a corrupt sheriff. And you also knew that sooner or later, good guy and bad guy would confront each other on the town’s main street, arms poised over pistols, eyes blazing, hearts pumping – and one or the other would say, “This town ain’t big enough for you and me.” Showdown time, something had to give. “This town ain’t big enough for you and me.”
And it is true that no town is big enough for both Jesus and the powers of evil. It is true that neither Jerusalem at Passover nor Washington on Palm Sunday can comfortably contain both the authority of the prince of peace and, at the same time, the forces that destroy life. It is true that, “This town ain’t big enough” for both King Jesus and for those who care little for human welfare. Never must we forget that in that last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus was killed by an unholy trinity of naked power, callous exploitation, and narrow-minded religion. Force, finances, and foolish faith did Him in. Humanly speaking, Jesus met His death because Rome wanted to keep its power; the money-changers saw their profits cut down; and the custodians of the Temple had long since forgotten everything about God’s love. Jesus, humanly speaking, was slaughtered because military muscle, financial finagling, and religious rowdyism teamed up against Him. “This town ain’t big enough” for both King Jesus and the exploiters. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. They moved to get rid of Him.