After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When Jesus 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.”
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Meaning… I accuse..was the title of an open letter written by the influential French writer Emile Zola who accused the French military not only of the unlawful jailing of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, but also of being anti-Semitic.
Captain Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason in 1894 and given a life sentence on Devil’s Island a French penal colony in 1895. He was convicted by a secret military tribunal and not even allowed to see the evidence against him.
Zola published the letter in 1898 very publicly in a newspaper, with the hopes he would be sued so that the evidence would have to be made public. Even though Zola was sued and lost, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and eventually the French Government realised that Dreyfus was innocent and the military were covering up, and eventually his guilty verdict was annulled in 1906.
The Dreyfus Affair is one of the most historically significant cases of false accusation and false imprisonment.
And the phrase “J’Accuse” has become a common generic expression to accuse the powerful who tread on the weak, especially when they falsify the truth to do so.
And case in point would be the recent Iranian decision to give a prison sentence of 38 years plus 148 lashes to a woman by the name of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is a human rights lawyer. Her crime is to defend women who were being prosecuted for peacefully protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law, by not wearing head coverings in public.
Iran has trumped up numerous charges against Sotoudeh and it is a moral outrage.
And this is only one of many cases around the world of false accusation and false imprisonment. You may recall that there are Canadians held in China on what seems very suspect proceedings that seem to have little to do with the rule of law.
And when Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday we know the story of how he will be falsely arrested by the Jewish religious authorities….
…how he will be handed over to Roman authorities, …how he will make a brief appearance before Herod the ruler of Galilee, who was Jewish royalty educated in Rome and a vassal of Rome…
…how he will be sent back to Pilate and though neither Pilate nor Herod could find him guilty…
…how they seemingly bow to public opinion and Pilate sentences him to death.
And riding into Jerusalem is the beginning of the week of false accusation which will lead to his death.
One interesting note is that Luke’s version of the riding into Jerusalem is a little different than Mark and Matthew’s.
In Luke’s gospel they spread garments not Palm branches.
In Luke’s gospel it is not the crowds but the disciples who spread their cloaks. And it is only in Luke’s gospel that the Pharisees try to silence the disciples who are praising God and singing a psalm.
They were singing from the psalm we read responsively Psalm 118:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
And notice that they change the word One to King.
the disciples sing:
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
The disciples are singing and praising and the Pharisees try to silence them.
There are many silencers in this world. People, groups, institutions, the powerful who try to silence people.
there are those who silence free speech or freedom of the press.
There are this who silence women, or gays, or lesbians, or transgender or children, or minorities..
There are those who silence people who want to have fun and party..
There are those who silence those who protest…
there are those who silence other cultures, other faiths, other philosophies..
I don’t know about you but I have had people try to silence me, change what I preach, make me not talk about certain subjects or topics, try to change me to their political or religious position that will be more palatable to them
I am sure we have all had silencers in our lives who could not listen to our dreams, our visions, our story, our life, our truth, because it didn’t square with their version of how things should be…
One of the public ways to silence people or manage people or change people or disenfranchise people today is to ACCUSE them of something.
It is especially popular in the media and in politics. Just look at the nightly news and there are all kinds of accusations flying around about political corruption and the like.
We are in the middle of an election here in Alberta. Get out and vote tomorrow. But how often do political leaders accuse the other side of something.
And so much of it is unsubstantiated. Sometimes politicians exaggerate the truth, sometimes they just think they know the truth, and sometimes they just make it up. Not all politicians and not all the time, but we have to be very wary of accusations…because they are designed mostly to hurt, to confuse, to sway and win people to their side, not to bring truth or love or justice.
And so much of what one can read on the internet is actually fake news. With the upcoming federal election we are being warned by our own government that foreign powers and others will deliberately put fake news on the Internet. Noted examples are fake news stories targeting Muslims or Gays or Refugees or other minority groups putting them in a bad light trying to sway people to vote in a particular way.
Accuse someone. Gossip is a form of accusation. It is often spread by one person to another telling a story about what they heard. Sometimes it is true, sometimes it is not true, sometimes it is partly true, but often it is told to shed a negative light on someone, or to get a reaction, or to make the teller who has low self-esteem feel better about themselves.
And yet did not Jesus tell us pretty specifically not to judge one another.
The throwing around of accusations and pointing fingers is supposed to be the opposite of what Christians do. We are supposed to listen and understand…to forgive, help and heal, even the worst of sinners…
But we have a very sad history in the church of pointing fingers and accusing people, and even physically hurting people from Muslims, to women, to children, to aboriginals, to gays and lesbians, to slaves to scientists, to people ethnically, religiously, racially or theologically different.
As a minster I know what it is like to have all kinds of accusations laid against me.
And you know when someone doesn’t like you it doesn’t matter to them.
I have been accused of visiting too much. I have been accused of visiting too little.
I have been accused at looking at one side of the church more than other. I have been accused of not praying enough.
I have been accused of telling too many stories in my sermons.
I have been accused of helping myself to a cookie out of the cookie jar when I visited a home and in another cased for dipping my finger in the gravy to test it, when I was visiting somebody.
I have been accused of preaching too much about love. I have been accused of talking too much and too loudly.
I have been accused of not knowing names and forgetting people’s names.
I have been accused of being greedy and selfish.
I have been accused of using bad language.
And you know what, some of these things are true. I don’t stand here as a perfect minister, but a sinner just like you.
What I can tell you about accusations, is that they are designed to hurt to divide, to exclude, to demean, to gain power over…
Paul in the Book of Romans in chapter one talks about those who are filled with all kinds of wickedness and evil, with a long list of sins, and it is one of the passages used by those who are against the church sanctioning same sex unions.
but Paul goes on to say in chapter two, that all of us are in the same boat.
And that when we judge those people we ourselves will be judged because we are all sinners.
There is not one of us can take the speck out of another’s person eye, because we all have a beam in our own eyes.
It is easy to say that the Pharisees are bad, that Herod is bad, that Pilate was bad, and that the mob who accused Jesus was bad…
but the good news of the gospel, which is bad news first ,is that all of us are sinners.
We all accuse and hurt and demean and separate and use people for our own ends.
We all judge people when we have logs sticking out of our eyes.
We all silence the people who we don’t see eye to eye with.
And then the good news goes on to say that God loves us anyway and doesn’t give up on us, for we are God’s children.
And Jesus shows us another way by riding into our lives on a donkey.
What the bible doesn’t say, but those welcomed Jesus many years ago into Jerusalem would know, is that there is someone else who came riding into Jerusalem around the same time as Jesus.
His name was Pontius Pilate, the appointed Procurator from Rome. He came riding into Jerusalem on a big white warhorse with soldiers and weapons to proclaim the peace of Rome and to acknowledge Caesar as king.
And Jesus come on a donkey, not a chariot.
Jesus comes humbly on a humble animal with a peace of non-violence, a peace of reconciliation, a peace of non-judging and a peace of forgiving.
It is the way of humility and sacrificial love.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
The way the world has rejected has come to life in Jesus.
The world rejected Jesus and his way of non-violence, his way of humility, his way of unconditional love and forgiveness, his way of inclusion, his way of sharing, his way of lifting up the downtrodden and saying they were equally God’s children.
And yet this stone that the builders of this world rejected is God’s cornerstone to eternal life…to a quality of life that is heavenly.
And that is why the disciples change the scripture.
Instead of saying:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
They say or sing: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
And instead of the Procurator Pilate who comes riding on a warhorse with troops representing the King or the Emperor…
The disciples are actually proclaiming a treasonous statement, that the real King is Jesus, not Caesar.
Notice that the mob will say that they have no king but Caesar.
But God says there is another way to be in the world. There is one who is truly worth following. It is the king of love, a king who is your shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
And Paul writes, that God is for us, not against us. The only person who could lay an accusation against us is Jesus, and does Jesus accuse us or condemn us? No!
Instead Jesus intercedes for us. Lays down his life for us.
And Paul also encourages us in the letter to the Philippians to have the same mind has Jesus, who even thought he was equal to God, emptied himself and humbled himself and was obedient even unto his death.
There is another way, not of pointing fingers and accusing.
Sure, I have made mistakes in my marriage and with my family and in the church and in life
We all do.
And what has worked best is when people sit down with me in love and give me helpful feedback, or tell me how my actions have hurt them, and give me an opportunity to apologise so I could receive forgiveness and be reconciled.
Often people who like to accuse don’t want to forgive. Don’t want to accept apologies. Sometimes they like to feel superior, or sometimes they like to wallow in the pain to feed their anger or sense of revenge.
I know there are cases of people so hurt and devastated by the cruelty of others that forgiveness and reconciliation are very difficult.
I am not talking about them, but about those who use accusation as a weapon to manipulate, to hurt, to divide, to exclude, to cause pain.
One of my favourite gospel stories is the story of the woman taken in adultery.
The very religious people (the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees) brought her to Jesus, telling him that the law demanded that she be stoned.
You will find scripture to that effect in Deuteronomy chapter 22. It is one of the reasons I am not a literalist.
And as an aside, I think the Kingdom of Brunei is another case of the powerful treading on the weak by passing a law to stone people for adultery or homosexuality. My opinion it is barbaric and brutal and totally at odds with the one we follow called Jesus.
So the leaders bring a women to Jesus. And the reason given is that they want to see how Jesus will handle it. They wanted to trap him so they could accuse him. They wanted Jesus to disagree with the law so that they could point fingers at him, or even arrest him.
And Jesus instead of pointing his finger at the woman or even at the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, points his finger to the ground and writes with his finger in the dirt:
“Let anyone who is without sin throw the first stone.”
And they all left beginning with the leaders.
And Jesus asks her. “Has no one condemned you?”
She said “No one, sir.”
“Well neither do I condemn you.”
“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
For God sent not his son into the world to accuse us, point fingers at us or condemn us, but to save us, forgive us, heal us, reconcile us and love us.
And if we are silent about that, then even the stones will shout out that Jesus is humbly riding into our lives not to condemn us but to love us. Amen.