Luke 19: 28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Shame is a shameless mimic. It can talk the lingo and mimic the voice of any virtue. Take responsibility or realism. Through the mouths of the Pharisees, shame said to Jesus, astride that donkey before the gates of Jerusalem, “Rebuke your disciples!” In other words, “Who do you think you are, raising a ruckus like that? Don’t you know how dangerous it is to carry off such provocative street theater right in view of the Roman garrison in the Antonia Fortress overlooking this very place? What are you doing, pulling the lion’s tail, and tweaking the Roman nose, claiming to be Israel’s king when Caesar is?” So shame speaks the language and mimics the voice of responsibility and realism.
Shame also mimics the voice of modesty, respectability and restraint. So, “Jesus,” they mean to say, “isn’t all this exuberance and celebration unseemly? What are they supposed to think when they see good, upright, observant Jews cutting loose and acting so undignified, so without proper restraint? This is not a friendly world to our people; we can’t let down our guard and look like we’re not in control, not in front of our enemies.” And so shame speaks the language of modesty, restraint and respectability. Shame even mimics the voice and talks the talk of religion. “Jesus, tell the crowd to cool it. We recognize the Messianic overtones of what you’re staging here, a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy about Israel’s coming king. But this demonstration was not authorized by the proper religious authorities. What’s more, we don’t think you’re any kind of Messiah. Not our kind of Messiah, at least.” Thus shame mimics the voice of religion.
But shame is still a liar, although a crafty, sneaky liar. “The truth shall set you free,” Jesus said, when spoken in love, that is. But shame takes strands and pieces of truth and weaves them into webs of bondage. Still, no matter how much truth it speaks, no matter how well it mimics the voices of virtue, shame always gives itself away by its obsessive, repetitive message. Whoever the speaker, whoever the audience, shame is always saying some version of, “But you aren’t…” fill in the blank. But you aren’t up to this job. But you aren’t worthy of our trust, or our time. But you aren’t able to learn this new skill. But you aren’t courageous enough, or cool enough, or….fill in the blank.
Beloved children of God, we are no match in either power or wits for such a subtle but insistent enemy as shame. We need a full court press of faith, hope and love on our side. And what faith, hope and love say always begins with, “But God is…” Again, fill in the blank. But God is able to pick up where our strengths let up. God is willing and able to work the necessary changes in us and give us strength to grow. God is willing and able to effect reconciliation where before there was estrangement. God is able and willing to bring wholeness where before there was broken-ness.
And that’s how Jesus counter-acted the voice of shame coming from those Pharisees who told him to stifle the disciples. He draws upon the Word of God to assert the truth, over and against the deceptive, dangerous half-truths of shame. To the Pharisees who are saying, “But you aren’t……worthy of or permitted to put on such a demonstration of joy and love and hope as what is happening here under the noses of our enemies,” Jesus says, “But God is…..” In this case, God is able to make the stones cry out if you won’t.
Now what did he mean by that, that “the very stones will cry out,” if people should not? Usually we take that to mean that if people don’t worship God, nature will. If that’s what Jesus meant, he would be drawing on the psalms and prophets when they call Creation to join them in worship, such as Psalm 148: “[Praise God] you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds.” Or in the words of Isaiah 44:3: “Sing forjoy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob…”
What with all the rocks sitting around Judea, I can see why Jesus might draw on this tradition in the Psalms and the Prophets to say that if we don’t have the sense of rocks to worship our Creatoer, then they’ll gladly do it for us. And that says to me that whenever we feel shame from someone else, or deal shame to someone else, we’re going at cross-currents with the very flow of the universe. Whenever we feel shame, it feels as though the whole universe is looking down on us, weighing down on us, frowning upon us, evaluating us with its cold, calculating eye and finding us ever and always wanting, lacking, inadequate, and therefore, dispensible.
And we can believe that, if we wish. But you won’t find it in the Bible. There I read that if the rocks and mountains and fruit trees and cedars, the stars in the heavens and the distant galaxies are aware of anything, they are fixed upon their Creator in a vast celestial symphony of praise and worship, the harmony of the Creator’s delight in his creation, and creation’s delight in its Creator. And if they were aware of us at all, they would invite us in, to join the celestial symphony of peace, celebration and adoration. So say that to shame next time it raises its ugly head and says, “But you aren’t, or you can’t…..” fill in the blank. Say, “I’m a child of the universe, welcomed at the great celestial party of adoration, contemplation and reconciliation, invited to sing with the rocks and the rivers, the mountains and the moose, their mighty, massive Hallelujah Chorus!
You know, I feel better just saying that.
But there’s another way in which Jesus might be speaking, another possible meaning that is more pointed and, perhaps, painful. It struck me by surprise when I used one of the latest tools of Biblical research: Google. Type the exact words, “the stones will cry out,” into your search engine and what comes up is Habakkuk 2. Here’s the whole text:
9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
Whoah. Not only is Jesus talking back to the Pharisees, he’s giving it back as good as he got, by referring the Pharisees back to this pointed, painful prophetic passage from Habakkuk 2. If that’s what he meant, don’t think they would not have caught his drift. That’s how rabbis talk to each other even now, in biblical shorthand, with a verse or a few words that suggest an entire passage.
Now, which kind of crying stones did Jesus mean? Stones that worship with the angels, or stones that testify, like the prophets? I’m not sure. Its ambiguous, and maybe Jesus was being deliberately ambiguous. Both would be true. But I lean 55 to 45 in favor of Habbakuk and his testifying stones. For at the gates of Jerusalem, under the shadow of the Roman fortress, in view of Herod’s Temple, the stones that would most readily come to mind would be those of the walls, the buildings, the towers, the temple, palaces, mansions and fortress, many of them gathered, sculpted, heaped up and mortared together just as Habakkuk says, by bloodshed, injustice, extortion and debt. Like when the police find stolen goods in the home of a burglar, so it is with these stones. Their very existence cries out with damning self-incrimination to ill-gotten gain and unjust, exploitive, extortionate power. Jesus is then silencing the lying voice of false shame by calling upon those stones to bear witness to the true shame that is staring everyone right in the face: the violent, oppressive power that put so many of those stones there. One more reason why they would want to do away with this Galilean troublemaker.
And that helps us deal with shame, too. Because whenever we feel shame, or deal shame to others, its usually a diversionary tactic. Most shaming and blaming are distraction action, to distract our attention away from that which is truly a shame, to cast onto others what we really fear, dislike or disown about ourselves. Shaming and blaming tells us more about the shamers and blamers than they do about the blamed and shamed. Remember that whenever you hear the drums of war beating, riling people up against another nation or another race: Ask ourselves, what is it about ourselves that we’re distracting ourselves from, or projecting onto them? Or could that be why some people mock the elderly and tell jokes about them? To distract themselves from the fear of their own aging, from their unnecessary shame about their own mortality?
“Shame on you, Jesus, for this unauthorized and irresponsible celebration,” the Pharisees say, when the real shame is all the violence, injustice and exploitation that those stones represent. So whenever shame, or some shaming persons, tell us, “But you aren’t, or you can’t….” lets ask ourselves, What’s really the issue here? Much of the time, their real issue is “But I won’t.” Or “But we won’t.” But we won’t examine ourselves. But we won’t repent or reconcile. But we won’t share any of our power or privilege. But we won’t… Again, fill in the blank.
So don’t let anyone make us take on their shame as our shame, no matter how well shame talks the talk and mimics the voice of virtue. And let’s not make anyone take on our shame as their shame, either. For the real sins that people hide by shaming and blaming others will come clear, even if no one but the stones testifies to them.
But such judgment is not the last word. Jesus, the prophets and the stones invite us to join them in everlasting celebration, contemplation and adoration of our Creator. Come as we are to the party of love, faith and worship. Because, as I’ll show next week, Jesus already took on everybody’s shame for everyone, and returned it as the honor of an invitation to his next triumphal entry. Its an invitation to trade in those sorry little fig leaves that Adam and Eve wore because of their shame, for a crown of righteousness and royal robes washed in the blood of the Lamb.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on that next week, for Easter.