In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Our story is beginning to come to the climax, and tensions in the story that were strained are about to heat up. The feast of Passover is drawing ever closer, the last feast Jesus will celebrate in Jerusalem, and everyone can feel that something special is going to happen. Jesus has already told them that he is the Messiah and this was confirmed by God’s own voice and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. With this fresh in their minds, Jesus tells them, “It is time let us go celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem,” and you can feel the excitement in the air. Now is the time of Israel’s deliverance.
As they cross the river Jordan and head to the town of Jericho, right before they begin the 15 mile journey, that will them from 1,200 feet below sea level to 2,500 feet above, they encounter two strategically placed blind men. These men are not merely begging for money, they are providing a service. The backbone of Judaism’s piety is made up of three elements, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These two men are allowing the pilgrims to the festival the opportunity to get in a little extra good work on their way to celebrate one of the three great feasts: Passover.
As the pilgrims place their offerings in these two men’s cups, they hear a special treat—Jesus is approaching. If he will just toss in some money, surely everyone around him will as well—their pay day has arrived. As he draws near, they begin their pleas, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd tries to quiet them, but they carry on all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David.”
When he finally reaches them, he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” They start for their cups to begin the great payday, but then something greater pops into their head: “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they were opened and as they were looking around surveying the land for the first time, they followed Jesus. Now he is going to show them what it is like when he, the Son of David and heir to the throne, looks like when he enters into his kingdom.
Jesus sends two of his disciples to a pre-arranged deal to bring him a donkey and a colt with her. As they bring him these two, they begin to see in the flesh, a story they had read about all their lives concerning a previous Son of David. When David was old and dying, his son Adonijah set himself up as king in his father’s place, for he is the heir by birth order. But David had already promised Bathsheba that their son Solomon would be king.
So David sends his own donkey to Solomon. He is to mount it and ride it down the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem where he will present himself to Zadok the priest who will anoint him. And then trumpets will be blown to draw everyone’s attention to the proclamation: “Long live Solomon!” Then he will ascend to his throne as the appointed king of all Israel.
Jesus, David’s son (as the two, now formerly blind men so aptly put), mounted on a donkey rides up the Mount of Olives and traces Solomon’s path—a path that leads straight into Jerusalem and to the High Priest Caiaphas, who will recognize him as the king and anoint him and then Jesus will be the tip of the spear of the revolution that will cause Israel’s deliverance from the evil Romans, and God will again establish his earthly kingdom.
And so the people came out in droves to witness this, on the exact day that Daniel the prophet had promised 483 years earlier. And they bring with them palm branches, a sign of triumph, a sign which if you squint your eyes just right, looks like a sword. And the people, thousands of them, proclaim with loud voices, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” All this carrying on draws the attention of Roman forces in the Antonio Fortress not 500 yards from this tumult. These men are there especially to protect against the crowds gathered for Passover, just in case they get an idea of insurrection. The Romans play nice as long as you remember that there is one king and his name is Caesar, and he lives in Rome.
Jesus, surrounded by the huge crowd, reaches his intended destination of the Temple. The crowds now expect him to go see Caiaphas. However, as he enters, he sees an abomination—God’s house has been turned into a bank and this bank is openly taking advantage of the people and corrupting the people, enabling them to offer sacrifices to God that are wholly unfit. Jesus becomes enraged. He starts wrecking the place—overturning well-established money-changing stations (this isn’t merely flipping over card table—these people are not start-ups, they have set up shop in a permanent way) and Jesus drives them from the temple. This is quite a different entry than the people were expecting.
The next day, Jesus heads with the twelve toward the Temple. On the way, he sees a fig tree in full leaf. He stops and examines the tree, and he found nothing but leaves. Though it was not the time for figs, he expected to find something, but he finds nothing—only the outward beauty of the leaves. The fig tree is a real life parable of the Temple. The outward appearance is beautiful, towering 16 stories above the earth, but it is fruitless. Jesus went the day before, looking for something—anything—that could be nurtured into bearing fruit; he went looking for any signs of belief in the Messiah, the true understanding of the Messiah that he has spent the last 3 years establishing—but he found nothing. And so he curses the fig tree and in doing so, curses the Temple—fruitless trees serve no point when their entire existence is based on bearing fruit.
Jesus then proceeds into the Temple. What gall! He just wrecked the place yesterday, and then he has the nerve to come back. Naturally the chief priests and the scribes confront him: “By what authority are you doing these things?” “Who gave you the authority to come in here and mess up everything?”
But Jesus rounds on them, “No I will ask the questions here. I will ask you one question; answer me and I will tell you by whose authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”
They circle up and debate among themselves, and their conclusion was they don’t know. Rather than take a stance at all, they throw up their hands and do nothing. This reminds me of the letter to the Laodiceans that Jesus tells John to write in Revelation: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you from my mouth.” Had these leaders taken a stance, any stance, Jesus could have corrected it and taught them, but Jesus has no time for lukewarm and fruitless. “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
And then he turns to the crowd that has naturally gathered (who would want to miss that encounter after what happened yesterday?). He says to them: “A man had two sons, both of which he tells to go work in the vineyard. The first initially says no, but then thinks better and goes. The second says yes, but never goes. Which did the will of the father?” The crowd answers: the first.
He then turns to the religious leaders: “Truly I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before you. John the Baptist came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”
Beloved, Jesus here is upset, and with good reason. The people who were supposed to be aware of what was going on hadn’t a clue. But those who didn’t let their pride could their vision, were able to see with their own eyes even though they didn’t have all the training. The blind men threw themselves at Jesus and he gave them more than they initially desired. But the religious leaders proved how blind they were to the man who stood in front of them and all that he had to offer to them.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.