Excerpted from the Council’s 2019 Lenten Reflection Guide for Lectionary Year C.
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 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.” (Luke 12:28-40)
Acting on behalf of freedom is a dangerous undertaking. A fact that Jesus surely knew as he was traveling with his disciples toward the city of Jerusalem. When they arrive at a place called the Mount of Olives just outside of the village of Bethany, Jesus sends two disciples into the city to fetch him a colt. When they return they set their teacher upon its back and travel the approximately two miles between the Mount of Olives and the city gates of Jerusalem. As they do so a crowd begins to form, steadily growing with each step the colt takes along the dusty road. But they’re not just watching and silently staring at the site to behold. They’re laying their cloaks down along the road and as they do, still more gather. They begin to shout, “blessed is the king” and “glory in the highest heaven!”
Luke is careful here to make sure we take notice of who is gathered in the crowd. It is not fickle fans, eager to be a part of “the next big thing” and likely to quickly abandon Jesus for the next rising star. Those gathering, joyfully praising God at the sight of this person on the back of a colt, are disciples of Jesus. This is a multitude of people who have bought into the dream Jesus has been preaching about good news to the poor, release for the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. They are ready and willing to act on behalf of freedom.
But acting on behalf of freedom is a dangerous undertaking. As the size of the crowd intensifies, so too does the desire of Jesus’ enemies to kill him. Those familiar with the story know he will soon be sentenced to death. This story reminds me of another person who acted on behalf of freedom, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Dr. King became more visible he began to attract larger and larger crowds wherever he went. As those crowds began to praise God for his prophetic witness, those who wanted to harm him began to pursue him. The desire among his enemies intensified until April 4, 1968, when Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. Acting on behalf of freedom is a dangerous undertaking.
As Jesus approached the gates of Jerusalem some of the Pharisees in the crowd order him to make his disciples cease their praise and disperse. To this Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” In order words, some things simply must be said. The disciples are expressing what we know to be—in the end God’s reign of peace and justice will prevail. Or as Dr. King put it, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Acting on behalf of freedom is a dangerous undertaking. Yet we must continue to participate in God’s work for peace and justice. Jesus realized it. Martin Luther King realized it. We too must realize it. Are you prepared to act on behalf of freedom?