Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 April 2020.
The streets of the old city of Jerusalem are much like those of any other Mediterranean walled city. They are narrow canyons in which one car can drive or perhaps two horses or donkeys can pass one another.
There are occasional squares and open spaces, but these cities are densely populated. So it would not take much for one faction or another to take control of the streets. And to control the streets would be to control the city.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem He was followed by His disciples and by a larger group of His supporters. He was welcomed by those in the city who looked to Him with expectation. This was the promised Messiah who would deal with the corrupt and self-serving Jewish authorities and hopefully He would send the oppressive Romans packing as well.
So the welcoming crowd and the supporting followers had more than one agenda, and they were looking for different things. Together they looked like a crowd threatening the good order and governance of the city.
During the week these perspectives would separate out, the city authorities would rally themselves against Jesus. They too would take control of the city streets and spaces filling them with their supporters. This time crying out ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ and again the city authorities, this time the Romans would react against a possible riot. If good order was to be preserved, then let one man die.
But even then the city was divided. Jesus still had His followers, those who relished His confrontations with the temple and the teachers of the religious law. His one-liners would be remembered and recorded – like ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’.
But within these undercurrents, Jesus came as a king to establish His kingdom. He would do it personally, and His first steps would be in reclaiming the Temple. Then He would win the argument.
Then He would face the opposition of those who had never looked for the rule or the reign of God. As the storm clouds gathered He would give His final words of encouragement to His disciples, sealing it with His take on the Passover meal which would resonate down history.
Finally, He would go to the cross, taking personal charge of the most excruciating aspects of the work that God had given Him to do.
He would give Himself as the perfect sacrifice, which none other could do.
But even here the agendas were mixed. Jesus would go to the cross, but under a superscription which in derision and irony still proclaimed His kingship.
Like many generations before us, we also live in troubled times. Wealthy beyond belief and with infrastructures of unparalleled sophistication.
And yet beset by a hidden pestilence, its people both rallying to help their neighbours while others were distrustful of any kind of authoritative opinion or pronouncement.
A cynical and angry nihilism also stalks the land, beholden to none except its own sense of grievance and not really wanting any rational explanation or set of responses.
Here also there is a mentality which could turn on any person, group or set of beliefs with the same viciousness of the people of Jesus’ time. A modern version of ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ which has been known in failing or failed societies all over the world.
It is easy to congratulate ourselves on not being like the Jews of the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time, but I do not think that this is justified. Our own people and our own times still echo with the same sense of anger and rage.
That is why this is a particularly good time to think of the words of Psalm 122: ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you.’