The Voice of the Stones – April 12, 2020, Easter Sunday
Habakkuk 2:6-11, Luke 19:28-48
April 12, 2020
As I said last week, even though today is Easter Sunday, we’re going to wait for our main Easter celebration until we can worship together. That’ll be a great day! In the meantime, we’re in a kind of “extended Holy Week.” As I said, we don’t often get to talk very much about what happened that week, because we usually focus on the beginning and the end.
So, we’re getting the chance to talk about the middle. And I know I said that John usually gives us more of the story in his Gospel, but in this case, if we want more of the story we have to go to Luke. In this case, he gives us, more of the dialogue and more of the emotion. (Those things I usually say about John!)
Today, we’re filling in a little more of the story of Palm Sunday. That’s because Luke does give us more of that story – and more of the dialogue! And this part sets up the events of the rest of the week. Here, in our reading for today, we have this verbal exchange between Jesus and “some of the Pharisees in the multitude.” (Again, Luke has Jesus in a “multitude” on Palm Sunday. Or as I’ve said, a “mob.”)
So, if you remember from last week, we have this mass of people moving together into the city, with the people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna,” with Jesus at the center of the mob! And the Pharisees call out to him, “Teacher – Rabbi! Rebuke your disciples.” Now notice, they’re not just saying “silence them.” And there were reasons they wanted them silenced. For one thing, they feared the retribution of the Romans if the crowds really did try to make Jesus their king that day. But no, it wasn’t that. It’s wasn’t just “silence them.” It was “Rebuke them!” “Tell them they’re wrong!” And that’s what they felt about this whole thing with Jesus. It was wrong!
Jesus says, “No!” “I’m sorry, Boys, but what they’re saying and doing here is not wrong! I am who they are hailing me to be.” “So no, I’m not going to ‘rebuke them.’ In fact, if they were silent, the very stones would cry out!” And it’s the voice of those stones I want us to be thinking about today.
I’ll never forget an old colleague of mine from the early days of my ministry, Ken Williams. He spoke at my installation here in 2005. He died a year or so after that, God rest his soul! Ken always challenged me to think of scriptures in new ways. Because we do get “set in our ways” in looking at these old stories. He’s the one who challenged me to think of the story of Zacchaeus. He said that when Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree so he could see Jesus “because he was short of stature,” the description “he was short of stature” may well have been referring to Jesus, not Zacchaeus! It works out grammatically either way!
Well, Ken suggested to me, in this story, that Jesus was quoting scripture – which he often did! He was quoting the prophet Habakkuk. He was referring to the part we read today, where the “stones would cry out from the walls.” And what were the stones crying in that prophecy? They were crying out against injustice, they were crying “woe to those who get evil gain for their house.”
That’s what was happening in the Temple in Jerusalem! There was “evil gain” going on there. And the Pharisees were at the heart of it. The quote was a judgement against them! And they knew it! They knew their scriptures. And they knew what he was getting at. And yes, this was a wonderful statement about the joy and adulation of that day, about the even the stones crying out in hailing Jesus as King. That’s the way we’ve always seen it. But that statement had this side message, this prophetic message.
And think about this. If Jesus didn’t do what he was about to do, in “cleansing the Temple,” those stones would have reason to cry out from those Temple walls, just as the prophet said – because of what was happening there! In other words, “If I don’t do what I’m about to do, that judgement of Habakkuk is upon you!”
So, what was happening in the Temple? Well, there was a “business” going on. It was the “sacrifice business.” Everyone was bringing their sacrifices to the Temple. But to be a “proper sacrifice,” it had to be “pure.” It had to be “worthy.” So, it had to be inspected by a priest. And if your animal or your bird or whatever you brought was flawed in any way, it wasn’t “good enough.” After all, you were to give of your “first fruits.” You were to give of your very best. And, if your sacrifice was deemed “unworthy,” “Well, we have some ‘good’ sacrifices we can sell you right over here!”
That was part of the “evil gain.” But there was another business going on. It was, what we might call the “offering business.” As I understand it, offering to the Temple had to be given in the “Temple currency.” And, since people came from all around the known world to worship in Jerusalem, there were all different currencies. And if you didn’t have the proper currency, “Well, come right over here to these tables, and we can get your money exchanged.” “For a slight fee, of course.”
These guys had a “racket” going! They were guilty of the injunction in the prophecy of Habakkuk. “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house.” Jesus knew it. And they knew it! And he was about to do something about it. But not quite yet…
I love this next part! Jesus and the crowd are approaching Jerusalem, and he stops, and he weeps over the city. And only Luke gives us these words. And they are prophetic words. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
I read that whole thing again, because I wanted you to hear these prophetic words about the destruction of the city. History would tell us that the Romans would do exactly that! Those who wanted freedom from Rome that day – Palm Sunday – would not give up. They would continue to press for rebellion, and the final war between the Romans and the Jews would actually happen several decades later. And at the end, in AD 70, Titus and the Roman Legions would descend on Jerusalem and destroy it. And contemporary historians, like Josephus, would write – quite graphically – about the utter destruction that brought upon the city, just like Jesus said. And that was the end of the nation state of Israel for almost the next 1900 years, until modern Israel was established in 1948.
Jesus ended that prophetic vision with this conclusion. “Because you did not know the time of your visitation.” And I would suggest to you that the word “time” there, doesn’t necessarily mean the “date” or the “year.” What if I said it like this? “You did not know – you did not understand – the time you were living in.” “You did not understand what was happening.” You see, that was it. They wanted a King. They got a Savior instead. Instead of Jesus turning and approaching buildings that housed the seat of Roman power in the city, he turned that day, toward the Temple.
“And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, and he overturned the tables of the money changers, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of robbers.” And I wonder if you listened carefully that day, would you have heard the voice of the stones?
So, what does this part of the story of Holy Week mean to us? When we as the readers see the story, we know the end. We know who Jesus is. We know what would happen later in the week. We read this, and we think, “Of course Jesus would go ‘straighten things out’ in the Temple!” But I wonder what we would have thought, if we didn’t know all that!
I was thinking, there’s almost a “Martin Luther kind of thing” going on here. Luther wasn’t out to start a new religion, or a new sect. He just wanted to get some things right in the church. Nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, was his version of “cleansing the Temple.” And I wonder if he thought about that, as he hammered in that nail!
So, let me ask you, “Does our faith ever need ‘cleansing?’” Are there ever traditions, or understandings, or “religion as usual” kinds of things going on in our lives that need to be challenged? That’s what Lent is all about. Lent is a time when we look at our faith and we try to see where we may have fallen short. It’s time maybe to examine what we do, and why we do it. It’s time maybe to ask ourselves if we should rethink some of our assumptions. And what would those assumptions be? And how hard would it be to let them go?
Think about what’s happening in our world right now. We’re living in a time when “life as usual” has been disrupted. We’re having to let go of a lot of things we normally do. And that’s uncomfortable for us, isn’t it? One commentator suggested we are going through a “grieving process.” We’re “grieving” over the loss of our usual way of living. Think of how that has made you feel over the past month.
Maybe there are parts of our faith that we need to rethink, but would be tough to change. Maybe there are some “old habits” that are unhealthy for our faith, but we’re holding on to them because we are “comfortable” with them, or we don’t like to think of the discomfort we would have if we let them go – like we’ve had to let a lot of other things go these days. But maybe some of those are things that are keeping us on the “periphery” of the kingdom. Maybe they are things that are getting in the way of going deeper in our faith.
Let me ask you, “Are there things in us for which the stones would cry out?” Would Jesus “overturn a few tables” in our lives?
I would encourage you to think about your faith. We actually have a little more time in Lent this year. So, use that time well. Draw closer to God and feel him drawing closer to you. Recognize those things that stand between you and God, and maybe work on letting them go. Then, when we do – eventually – celebrate Easter, may you do so knowing Jesus better than ever before!
Eternal God, we thank you for sending your son to call us back into your Kingdom. Help us to learn from his example, to heed his words, and to seek to follow him more closely as we prepare our hearts for the Easter season. These things we pray in his name, Amen.