There are pieces of music, like Ravel’s Bolero, which start quietly, sparingly, and build, over what seems an interminable time to the climax, a crescendo of triumph and orchestral power.
Theatre, too, where all the threads are laid separately before the audience, and slowly woven together until the tapestry – of beauty, or disaster – is revealed.
If you read Matthew’s Gospel as a story, from beginning to end, there is a sense of inevitability about this coming week. From the danger shadowing Jesus’ birth and his family’s rush to the safety of Egypt, there is always the impending final confrontation. Since early in Jesus’ ministry, there have been plans to discredit and destroy, and he has not been ignorant of the forces arrayed against him.
So he takes them head on. From an itinerant ministry, moving amongst Jewish towns and Gentile villages, Matthew always seems to place Jerusalem just out of Jesus’ line of sight, even though it has been on his mind for some time. Until now.
From a ministry of encounter with those in need, and those seeking wisdom, Jesus initiates the beginning of the end. It seems a donkey has been arranged, for an arrival during preparations for the Passover festival.
This is street theatre. This is Jesus’ plan to draw attention to himself and to the reign of God. This is Jesus embracing his role as Messiah and declaring it to the crowd, and to the temple, and to the empire that watches in disdain, if it watches at all.
Discipleship is worshiping together, and caring for those around us. It is engaging in our community by serving people in need. It is prayer, singly, or together, as we name with God our concerns for our world. It is generosity and sacrifice which clothes the naked and feeds the hungry and visits the imprisoned. It is meals shared where people are made truly welcome.
And discipleship is confronting the powers which say “there is no forgiveness, no healing, no justice, without our permission”, by offering life and hope when the empire views us with disdain, if it even bothers to look.
Discipleship is turning over the empire’s tables, located deliberately in the temple. It is declaring a new empire where the least and the last are foremost and first, and where loving God and neighbour summarises everything we are asked to do and be.
Is it any wonder this week ends with the cross? To appropriate Chesterton’s poem, this “tattered outlaw” began with his death inevitable and declares an empire where sacrifice is victory, and death is defeated.
One word of advice; do not run ahead. Stay with Jesus, as he convenes his entry to Jerusalem. Wait with him in miracle and disturbance. Watch with him as shadows darken. Risk with him as all appears to end. Grieve in his silence.
Stand with him as God declares all things new.