It’s a very short passage, which is technically part of the previous passage, but I pulled it out by itself because of how crucial it is to the story. The “Palm Sunday” episode is traditionally played out in churches as a sort of “Christ the King” Sunday, where we celebrate Jesus as our king. But this really doesn’t do the story justice. Because, as I said yesterday, the crowd crying out “Blessed be the King” right now will soon be crying out “crucify him”. And Jesus knows this. Ever since he stated his mission in chapter 4, he’s been turning the world upside down and challenging the ways of the corrupt temple system. He’s been in a battle with the religious authorities, and now on this day, he rides into Jerusalem being hailed as the Messiah by his followers, and the very next thing that happens is the Pharisees tell him to tell his people to stop.
It’s the Passover. This is the religious leaders’ and their temple system’s high holiday. This is the season when hoards of people will flock to the city and they will spend money purchasing their passover lambs and getting their temple sacrifices in order. It’s religious leader’s day. You might even say that from both a literal financial standpoint and a symbolic religious standpoint this is their “black Friday”. But here comes this man who has been subverting their very way of being by dining with tax collectors, touching hemorrhaging women, touching dead bodies, lifting up the poor, and bringing down the haughty, and he has hoards of followers. He’s stealing their day. So with all the political power and positional authority the can muster, they order Jesus to tell the crowds to stop.
And Jesus comes back at them with a zinger: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out”. What he’s saying here is that what’s happening right here and right now cannot be denied. They system is broken, is in need of reform, and everybody knows it. Even the rocks know it. He is referring directly to an Old Testament prophet that the Pharisees would have know who said,
“Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” (Habakkuk 2:9-11)
This is a prophecy of rebuke to those in power. Elitism and exclusion are not of God, and this is what the system has become (note that this is not what the Jewish faith has become, but it is what the religious establishment and elite in that time and place have become). Jesus has spent 15 chapters exposing this and he has done so to the degree that it cannot be denied.
Before we get haughty about his work, what we need to let in is that in this time and place it is we who are the religious establishment and elite. We are no longer the raw movement within the establishment seeking to reform and revolutionize the way in which we live out of the faith. The Christian church today should not place itself with the disciples as much as it should with the establishment that Jesus has been exposing. Even the stones are crying out. Happy Palm Sunday, everybody.