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Feb 22 2009

Opportunity

Luke 19:28-44

Can you think of a missed opportunity in your life? Perhaps something that was right there for you, but you didn’t see it, or realize what the decision meant at the time? Or maybe you can remember something important that you did recognize and seize upon, and how that has changed your life.

A “multitude” of disciples accompanied Jesus that day. They had started with a small group up in Galilee, but it grew and grew as he touched more and more lives. He even had Pharisees traveling with him. They never stopped carping and criticizing, but it was like he was determined to include them in God’s plan, too.

His followers were a mixture of excitement and anxiety as they set out from Bethany, anticipating all that he was leading them towards. There was no great stallion for Jesus to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem. So he sent a couple of them into the village to “appropriate” a young colt. It might have been the only one available in Poortown, which was his “home away from home.” The people there knew Jesus was among them, so when the owners protested the taking of the colt, Jesus’ followers responded, “The Lord needs it”. The owners then nodded, smiled, and let go of the reigns. Whatever they had, no matter how hard they had worked for it, they felt it belonged to him, too.

As the multitude came down the Mount of Olives, the city spread out before them. They noticed the look of determination and purpose on Jesus’ face. He was bringing salvation! And he had called them. The crowd began to be swept up in the sense of mission.

The scrawny colt was struggling a bit coming down that hill. The whole parade probably didn’t look like too much to the people of Jerusalem: Jesus’ legs dragging on the ground; guys taking off their shirts and putting them on the road as a humble carpet of welcome (it’s what they had); much of the crowd composed of common laborers and their families, homeless people, the crippled, and folks that had been cast out of the religious community. Someone shouted, “Blessed is the king!” and soon everyone in the procession was shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” It was a kind of common prayer with legs—there sure as Gehenna (pardon the expression) hadn’t been much peace on earth!

Not surprisingly, the Pharisees were mortified by the whole scene. They implored Jesus, “Order your disciples to stop!” His followers looked at him, wondering how he would respond. These were people who had been told their whole lives to sit down and be quiet and do as they were told, because that’s what God wanted. Jesus didn’t avert his eyes from his questioners. He looked directly at the Pharisees while picking up a rock from the roadside. “I tell you, if my followers were silent the very stones would have to shout!” Yes! The multitude resumed cheering.

I mentioned responding to opportunity. Here it was, it seemed: Jesus’ opportunity to change the world for his followers. He could set the Pharisees straight, replace the leadership of the Temple, start a movement that would drive the Romans back across the Mediterranean where they belonged, sanctify the nation for God’s people. They had all been unsettled by his talk of coming to Jerusalem, being arrested, beaten, and crucified, trusting in God’s power to raise him from the dead. Now, hearing him speak so strongly to the Pharisees, they had the sense that he was “back on track.” Praise God!

The disciples surged forward, but Jesus had stopped. His face was wet as he looked into the city. “If you, even you, recognized on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes!” Oh, the struggles you will face because you do not recognize your time of visitation from your God.”

The cheering ceased, and they gaped at him. After wiping his face, he motioned for them to continue. They went directly to the Temple, where Jesus shocked everyone by turning over the money tables and driving the profit-makers out. Then they went back, day after day, where he taught fearlessly. But he vanquished no one; he spoke the truth. Even more, he embodied God’s truth. The hearts of priests, and the scribes, and all the leaders hardened, and they were all looking for ways to kill him. By Thursday evening the disciples were sitting around the Passover table sharing the bread and cup and listening to him forgive them for the ways they (his own followers) were about to abandon him. “No! No way!” some of them shouted. But by the next afternoon Jesus was dying alone.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. But to embody the change salvation makes, I suspect we’ve got to go the distance. On the other side of the cross his followers would realize that the opportunity that had opened on that road was not Jesus’ opportunity to do what they wanted, but their opportunity to really respond to him and to open themselves fully to what he was offering. Yes, he had come to save the world, but it was the whole world he had come to save, including the Pharisees, the chief priests and scribes, the Gentiles, the enemies, all the people they didn’t feel merited salvation. Why, Jesus would even save people like them, people who would desert their closest friend in the time of trial.

He had shown them the power of salvation in the touching and healing of the untouchable; in the freeing of those who were paralyzed; in the unburdening of those who were crushed; in forgiveness that flowed long before repentance. He had shown them the power of transformation in the flesh. People like the woman of the city who anointed Jesus’ feet, the tax collector Zacchaeus, the woman bent over from the spirit of weakness, and so many others, all became living testimony to this power alive in the world and it the people themselves! God’s kingdom revealing itself among us. He offered each person new life, his life.

Even his beloved followers, so loving and devout, had much of the time only listened to what they wanted to hear. Too often, they had believed not in him but who they wanted him to be. They had not recognized their time of visitation. They too, knew little of the things that make for peace. They had not recognized the opportunity. But Easter will proclaim once again that the story is never over.

Soon we will celebrate another Holy Week. And with it, more opportunity for us.

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