The road from Jericho to Jerusalem winds for about 15 miles up through the hot and dusty Judean desert. Today we travel it by bus or car, but in the first century the road was treacherous and an arduous journey by foot, given that it’s about a 4,000 foot elevation change over those 15 miles. But this was also the route that most Galilean Jews would have taken to come to the Holy City during the great festival of Passover and they had been doing it for generations—for so long that the Psalms reveal to us several “Songs of Ascent” that the pilgrims would sing on their way up the road.
Arriving in Bethany, the pilgrims would then crest the Mount of Olives and get their first view of the city laid out before them. After a long journey, the destination was finally in sight and it was impressive. The Temple, built by Herod the Great with white limestone quarried nearby, literally gleamed in the sun. Josephus, the Jewish historian, described the Temple “like a snowy mountain glistening in the sun.” It was one of the wonders of the first century world.
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Traditionally, Lent is a time of preparation and penitence in preparation for Easter and we began the season on Wednesday night when we gathered for Ash Wednesday. That’s the personal and spiritual dimension of Lent. But there’s also a public and political dimension to the Lenten journey. It’s been said that one should never mix religion and politics, but the Gospels don’t have such restrictions. For Mark and for the other Gospel writers, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter is the climax of the conflict between two kingdoms or, to update the language, two worldviews: the worldview of human political and social systems and the worldview of the Jesus, whom the Gospel writers see as the one true and divine ruler of the world. That conflict is evident through the whole story of Jesus, but it comes to a head here in Jerusalem during the Passover.
So, over the next six weeks we want to take us on a journey through that last week so that we can look at this conflict through first century eyes and, then, see how that conflict continues some 2,000 years later. The call to follow Christ is, after all, a call to see the world differently than humans traditionally have—to understand that Jesus was and is leading a revolution against the powers of this world, but doing so through a movement of justice, grace and peace over and against the human values of power, violence, and oppression. When we see more clearly what Jesus was doing in Jerusalem, we see more clearly our own call as his disciples.
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