NOTE: In an attempt to convey the oppressive nature of the times, as well as the incredible hope that blossoms (albeit briefly) when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, I chose to preach in character, as the next door neighbor to Jesus and his family. Below is the draft of what I hoped to say! Preaching from memory means it always turns out differently, so I encourage you to watch the video to get the full impact:
My name is Miriam Ruth… Miriam for my mother’s mother and Ruth for my father’s mother. I’ve seen a lot in my 48 years, and much of it hasn’t been so good, but my hopes are high today! Perhaps before I die I’ll see a new day dawn here in Jerusalem for my people. I can hope anyway.
You’re not from around here though, are you? So a lot of this probably doesn’t make any sense. Do you have a few minutes? Let me tell you how we got here and what happened today, and maybe you’ll see why I’m so hopeful.
I was born in a little tiny village called Nazareth, which is about 100 miles north of here (it took us about 7 days to travel here for this Passover festival!) Anyway, Nazareth is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone because there are only about 100 families living there. And none of us are wealthy, we don’t have a school, and the closest thing we come to a synagogue is a small room in Rebe’s house. All of our homes are small and made of stone, none of the rest of us had any room, but he lost his wife and his kids moved away so there you have it. “Peasant class” they call us, which makes us sound stupid and lazy, but we’re anything but. We work hard. My parents were farmers and so are my husband and I, my sister makes bread, my brother does some stone work, my other brother is a shepherd outside of town. We struggle to make ends meet and pay our taxes (they call it tribute – ha! – to Rome) so they don’t take what little land we have.
My parents, struggled their entire lives, as I have, and my children have, and my grandchildren will unless something changes – oh, how I pray for a better world for them.
About the time my parents were born, Rome appointed a client-king by the name of Herod to take the city of Jerusalem back, as it had fallen into rebel and Parsian hands. So, King Herod (they called him Herod the Great, but they should have called him Herod the Horrible), marched to Jerusalem with a massive Roman army, took over the city, and pretty much wiped out any remaining Jewish resisters against Rome.
Still, it wasn’t enough for Herod to have political power, so he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin (which is our Jewish high council – priests and elders) and replaced the temple priests with admirers who purchased their seats from him. From that time on our religious leaders have all been in the coin purse of Rome (so-to-speak). They claim to serve the people, but they take part of our offerings (which are required by Jewish law to atone for our sins and support the Temple) and give a good portion to Rome, and then keep a good portion for themselves. All you have to do is look at the houses they live in – big and fancy with servants. They care nothing at all that the rest of their people are practically starving.
With the priests sold-out we have no political power, no one to stand up for us. If we can’t trust them to be our political leaders, how can we trust them to be our religious leaders? This temple now is like a hideout for crooks who rob from their own people! And what can we do? To try to stop them would bring the power of Rome down upon us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In some ways Herod wasn’t all bad. He did usher in an era of stability, but he did it on the backs of the people. He initiated huge public works projects that employed tens of thousands of people to build markets, theaters, palaces and ports (all modeled after the classic Greek style). I can remember my father and older brothers traveling to the nearby city of Sepphoris to work, or deliver what little food we had raised. I saw Sepphoris once when I was a child. It was amazing – roads of polished stone, huge homes, beautiful aqueducts for large public baths and latrines. There were colorful mosaics painted on the walls, and a theater. Of course, to pay for all this he imposed crushing taxes upon all of us, and sent a hefty part of that to Rome to keep his position. We hardly had any money to survive on.
One thing we thought would be wonderful was when Herod, who was a Jew (if you can really call him that because he actually converted to Judaism) rebuilt our Temple in Jerusalem. But then he crowned it with a golden eagle – a sign of Roman dominion – and forced his handpicked high priest to offer two sacrifices a day for Caesar Augustus, the so-called “Son of God.” It was infuriating, but again, what could we do?
I was 18 when Herod died. In some ways we were grateful that his oppressive reign was over, but the uprisings that began were terrifying. Many Jews who had felt so angry and oppressed during his kingship began to take out their anger on the wealthy who had benefited from their “relationship” with Rome. A few rebels called themselves the messiah, and we hoped that they would usher in a time of peace and abundance. One was a huge man named Simon who crowned himself messiah and rallied a group of bandits to plunder the royal palaces at Jericho… but he was beheaded. Then there was a poor shepherd boy named Athronges, who put a crown upon his head and gathered a small group to attack the Roman troops (fool)… he was executed, too. Those are the only ones I remember, but there were many people who rose up, and much bloodshed. That in and of itself was awful, but with Herod gone, so were his massive building projects and unemployment escalated to a point of desperation for many.
So, life continued to get worse with the death of Herod, and this was about the time I was trying to raise my four children and keep them safe! It seemed that every day there were new and scarier groups of bandits roaming Galilee. Not only did they want political freedom from Rome, but these men were filled with religious fervor… they believed they were facing down Rome as a religious obligation and they wanted everyone else to do the same.
Eventually the emperor sent in troops who squashed the rebellion, destroyed the city of Sepphoris as retribution for the rebellions, auctioned the women and children off as slaves and crucified more than two thousand rebels and sympathizers. And we were only four miles away! People were fleeing through our town and Roman soldiers followed hunting them down. I was so afraid they would take us as well. We often hid with Mary and her husband Joseph, who lived next door, with their children. Their son Jesus was the same age as my Samuel… 10. A few years more and they would be drawn into the fighting. I hoped and prayed it would end.
Well, long story short, Herod’s son, Antipas, took over the area and decided to rebuild Sepphoris better than it was. The timing was good as Jesus and Samuel were able to travel there during the week to work. But, truly, Antipas was his father’s son, and not much changed. The rich got richer, and us poor got poorer. The priests have remained under the thumb of Rome. We’ve had no voice. And every time some young man has tried to bring about change, he has been crucified as soon as it appeared that he might be a threat to Rome.
Today I don’t know whether to be scared to death, or excited beyond belief.
A few years back, Jesus – Mary & Joesph’s son – started preaching. I always knew he was a smart boy and very interested in religion. Not all young boys like to sit for hours to listen to the men debate and argue the scriptures. But Jesus had been like that.
Anyway, as the stories of his preaching got back to us, we started to wonder if he wasn’t going a bit too far. Did you know that he healed someone on the Sabbath? That is against the law! And he forgave someone else’s sins? And only the high priest can forgive sin… after you’ve presented an offering and said the right prayers! He has preached that the poor will be blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. And they’ve been calling him the messiah, and Son of God (that’s what they call Caesar!), and Son of Man (like they did with Ezekiel and Daniel). His mother and I have been so worried, but what could we do?
You know, we haven’t been able to come to Jerusalem for Passover in a few years (it is just too expensive). We sent the men, of course, but Mary and I stayed home with our daughters and granddaughters. But this year we heard that Jesus would be entering the city on a donkey! Oh, how we wanted to see this. That meant he really is anointed by God and our new king. He really was the messiah we’ve been waiting for! When we got here there were thousands and thousands of people. And when Jesus started down from the Mt. of Olives on a baby donkey, just like King Jehu did in the scriptures, they all started cheering, waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road. It brought tears to my eyes. “Hosanna! Save us! Hosanna to the King!” we shouted.
The Roman soldiers were there, but what could they do? There were too many of us!
Jesus rode into Jerusalem and directly into the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers! You know there is really nothing wrong with them being there, but I think Jesus did what all of us have wanted to do for so long… let them know that we’re tired of them robbing from us! We’re tired of the priests hiding behind their holy masks and pretending to care for us when all they really care about is their money and their homes and their standing with Rome. They don’t care about God or us at all! The Temple is exactly what Jesus said… it is a den, a hideout, for robbers!
I don’t know what happens now. The whole city is talking about it. But I’m sure the high priests are angry. And I’m sure Pilate – the Jew hating, cold-hearted Roman governor – is angry.
This may sound a little silly, but remember I’ve known Jesus since he was born… all I want to do right now is find him and tell him how proud I am of him. He is a true prophet who doesn’t just reassure us of God’s presence, but calls us to stand up against what is wrong, to stand up against oppression, to seek liberation not just for our souls, but for our lives, and for our children and our children’s children.
Oh, there is his mother, Mary, waving to me to come, perhaps she has found him. I must go, but pray for him and pray for all of us. Hosanna!