Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore
Hello, my name is Judah and I am a temple Scribe. My job is to copy down meticulously the texts on the sacred scrolls, and to teach what they say to the people in the Temple. I apprenticed this job from my father Jehoachim when I was 13. Now I am old and grey, I have been copying down the sacred words for the last 55 years. Yes, it grows tedious sometimes, and I am tempted to think I know it all by now, but I love my work, and something happened just the other day here in Jerusalem that set me thinking. It leaves me wondering if perhaps after 55 years I have not really truly read the Holy Scriptures.
You see, Jerusalem seems to be a magnet for every fool who thinks he knows something about the law. The people are eager to learn, they flock to whatever teacher stands on their corner to preach. So it was with one Jesus, of Galilee. They say he was born in Bethlehem, that He is descended from the great King David, but he was raised in Galilee, and there is where he had his biggest following. Here in Jerusalem he drew the attention of the Temple officials; seems he stepped on their toes over something. The guy was really pretty gutsy. Just over a week ago he entered the city on a donkey. A bunch of people got real excited and started to proclaim him King, like David, sent by God. We'd like a king, really, someone who could liberate us from Rome, and some people thought he might do that, but it didn't end that way.
The temple officials got really upset over him, really bent out of shape. Turns out one of his disciples wasn't too cozy with him either, and turned him over to the authorities. And the authorities got Pilate to put him to death. Awful shame, I sort of liked the guy. But the thing that has me thinking, that has me really rather tied up in knots are the words. I've been a man of words all my life. And when I see a parallel between our words and the Words of Holy Scripture I know something important is about to happen.
Well, when you look carefully you can see some rather amazing ways that this guy's life parallels the Words of God. Rumor has it that the disgruntled member of his band, one Judas, was given 30 pieces of silver for turning Jesus over. And then afterwards in remorse he threw the money back into the temple. The prophet Zechariah took 30 pieces of silver from the sheep merchants for having badly shepherded the sheep. He took it and put it back in the temple treasury. It's almost as if this disciple was the bad shepherd and the one sold is the good guy...makes a man think.
What's more, it is rumored that this Jesus knew about Judas' plot ahead of time, but walked right into the trap anyway. Now anyone who could heal the lame and blind and even return people from the dead would have known what he was doing. Isaiah the prophet talks about the leader of Israel "going as a sheep to the slaughter," and giving his back to those who strike and his cheek to those who pull out the beard…maybe...makes a man think.
And it is said that he told his followers ahead of time that they would desert him (which they did,) quoting this scripture: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." Now this comes again from Zechariah in which God Himself strikes the shepherd of Israel for being a bad shepherd. But this man wasn't the bad guy. Or was he putting himself forward as some sort of sacrificial lamb or something? It makes me think of Isaiah again. And then, he goes right to where he always goes, like he doesn't even care he is walking into Judas' trap, when Judas comes with the temple guards and a mob of thugs one of Jesus' followers fights back—and Jesus stops him. Sounds dumb, but the idea of not returning violence for violence is clear in the prophets, I can't cite you passages off the top of my head, but I assure you it’s there.
And then you know what Judas did? Seems almost poetic justice, but there is more. They say he went out and hanged himself. King David had a friend who betrayed him and then hanged himself over it. Makes you wonder about just who this man Jesus really was! And the temple authorities (I saw this with my own eyes) bought the field of a potter as a cemetery for foreigners. Blood money it was, and now it is even more so. What is it about this guy that the story just won't quit?
Now this, however, is the really spooky part. Jesus reportedly told one of his other followers, one Peter, that he would betray him three times before the rooster crowed. I was in the courtyard, I saw it happen. The maid questioned him, and then another guy, and then the maid again. Each time Peter said he didn't know Jesus (the one he said he wouldn't desert!) And then, as if on cue, the rooster crowed.
And then, the temple authorities got the clearance to have him crucified. And Pilate put that mocking title on the cross, "This is the King of the Jews," as if the Romans weren't cruel enough, but had to rub it in, as if to say, "This is what we will do to anyone who claims to be King of the Jews." So much for liberation from Rome—but then why all these signs?
And then Jesus died really suddenly, and the temple, the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies ripped from top to bottom. You know what that means? The holy place is essentially desecrated. Anyone can just look in there on the most holy things. It wasn't any trick of human action. That veil is really thick, it's 10 meters high, and it ripped from top to bottom, as if God Himself was ripping it. This man predicted that the temple would be destroyed, maybe it has already started.
Then it was dark in the middle of the day for three hours. The last time something like that happened the Israelites were at war in the desert, and as long as Moses held his hands in the air the sun did not set, so that two men had to hold his hands up so that we could win. Makes you wonder just who won the final play now, Jesus or Pilate.
And then the ground shook and the graves of holy men of old have been opened and there are no bones inside. It's as if they have been raised to life by this man's death. You know, the guy is supposed to have predicted that he would die and rise again in 3 days, so the temple authorities have asked for a guard to seal and guard the tomb until the day after tomorrow. But in view of it all, you just wonder how much power a Roman guard and seal can have with such a man. If the man said he was coming back and all this has happened, who’s to stop him?
You line the pieces up and connect the dots...and it just leaves you wondering.