Luke 19:29-40 - "Before"

Luke 19:29-40

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

What a strange 3 years Jesus’ followers had. From the day that Jesus called Levi from his tax booth, Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats, and the other 7 from their ordinary lives, their lives had become anything but ordinary. They had walked countless miles from town to town in Galilee watching their teacher and friend do things they could never have imagined. They watched him calm storms, walk on water, multiply bread and fish, cast out demons, and heal broken bodies. They listened to him teach, argued with one another about what he really meant, and were sent out on missions of their own.

But in the middle of all the miracles and teaching we see recorded in Luke’s gospel, there must have been so much more that happened in those three years. They were also just a group of 13 friends. They probably had inside jokes, stories they loved to tell, internal arguments when everyone was tired and hungry that they had to apologize for later. They had other friends, including many women who joined the group off and on throughout their years together. I wonder if those times felt like high school reunions—the gang is all together again! They knew Jesus not just from the mountain top, but who he was late at night or when they had an early morning. Was Jesus a morning person? I don’t know. But his disciples did. They probably thought they knew Jesus as well as anyone could.

So, they probably weren’t all too surprised when Jesus told them to go take someone’s young donkey without much of an explanation. Maybe it was often-forgotten Bartholomew and Judas son of James, the other Judas who got sent on this mission. As usual, they are unnamed and identified only as their occupation—followers of their teacher. What must they have been thinking as they walked ahead, looking for the colt? “Solemn voice, oddly specific instructions, Old Testament resonance? Classic Jesus!” Did they feel awkward? Even after 3 years? They’d seen enough to know that Jesus knew what he was saying, but still… they had to go and take someone’s donkey with no further explanation than “The Lord needs it.” In the back of their minds, did they hope that the owners wouldn’t notice, and they wouldn’t have to give this strange explanation?

Of course, the owners did notice and asked exactly what Jesus said they would, “Why are you untying it?” The gospel writer records only the disciples’ simple answer, “The Lord needs it.” But I have to wonder, was that really it? Were the owners really satisfied with that answer? Did they know who the disciples were talking about? Did they believe Jesus really was the Lord? Did they follow the disciples to Jesus, wanting to see what this was all about? Did they think of the words of Zechariah 9:9 –‘ Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”? Did they think to themselves, “could it be that we get to be a part of Yahweh’s redeeming work?” Or was this just it? The end of their involvement in the story?

When the disciples bring the colt to Jesus, they place their coats on it and Jesus rides it up to the Mount of Olives and to Jerusalem, the place to which he has been headed throughout Luke’s gospel. The day that begins with just Jesus and his disciples seems to grow and grow as more people join the gathering, laying their cloaks on the ground. Unlike the other gospel writers, Luke makes no mention of palm branches. Instead, it is only people’s coats that are laid on the ground before donkey. It’s much more intimate and costly than palm branches. These people would have only had one cloak and yet they laid it on the ground for a donkey walk on. Afterward, they would have had to brush off the dust, and hopefully nothing more, and place it back on their shoulders. They must have really believed Jesus was worth it. I imagine the energy was palpable—children and adults getting caught up in the excitement as they heard the disciples, now more than just the 12, praising God for God’s works of power. They sing Psalm 118, a chorus familiar to all those who were listening.

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

It must have felt like such a great day for everyone. Well, everyone but the Pharisees. They were religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the ones responsible for leading their community in the midst of Roman Occupation. Perhaps they heard Psalm 118 as the Romans did—one who is called the King is a threat to the empire. When empire is threatened, pain will be coming to the people. So, if only Jesus’ followers could just be quiet then they all might be safe.

But of course, Jesus will tell them no such thing. In fact, he says, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” When he speaks of earth itself responding to God’s glory, it’s hard for me not to think of the dark midday skies and stones rolling away at the end of the week. Because you and I know what is coming next.

We know that this is the Before. This is before everything is about to change. Palm Sunday with the crowds’ shouts of Hosanna and the disciples triumphant joy is before kiss of betrayal, before the trials, before the bloody march to Calvary, before the denials, before worst moment they could ever imagine.

Maybe you remember what life was in your Before.

Before the accident
Before the diagnosis
Before the election
Before the divorce
Before the rejection
Before the job loss
Before the death

Yes, we all have a Before. Some of us have many. Before. Before when we thought the world was one way, and it turned to be another. When we thought we knew our loved ones, our country, or our God and suddenly we left wondering if we knew anything. Reading the story of Palm Sunday, we see the disciples Before. We see them when their hope was so secure, their vision of what would be was so clear. And yet their world is about to be turned upside down. The will be never again be disciples there were Before.

And neither will we. We will never go back who we were before. And even though on somedays, life in the After feels unbearably hard, we know that we can’t go back even if we want to. The breaking and remaking has shaped into people that cannot fit into the lives we lived before. As Christians, we are After people. We live After resurrection.

And yet the church calendar circles back year after year after to the same story. So today we find our ourselves in the Before, but we can’t fully enjoy it. We can’t fully join in the disciples’ joyful shouts because we know is coming. As a child, like many children before and after me, I remember asking my mom, “Why is it called good Friday? Shouldn’t it be called bad Friday?”

Yes, we know what is coming but not there yet. Maybe aren’t After people just yet. Maybe we’re In-between people. Living in between Palm Sunday and Easter. Living in between despair and hope. Living in between meaning and chaos. Living in between knowledge of the death and the promise of resurrection. Bible scholars call it “the already and not yet Kingdom of God.” The Christian life is paradox of the kingdom that is already here and the one whose coming we desperately wait for. But do not fear- this In-between, middle ground is the holy space where the Spirit is at work. As we hold to the tension of living In-Between, God is so powerfully at work in our lives.

So as we walk through this week, may we learn to be fully present in the In-between— neither living in the past of our lives Before nor rushing the future After to come. May we be fully present in the joy of Psalm Sunday, the fellowship of the Maundy Thursday meal, the heartbreak of the betrayal, and the pain and darkness of Good Friday, the shattering silence of Holy Saturday. Easter is coming, but it is not here yet. Today, we are still In-between people.