King of Creation
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
April 1, 2007
Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-48
“And he answered and said to them, ‘If these were to remain silent the very stones would cry out.” –Luke 19:40
Certain Pharisees, when they heard the crowd of his followers shouting and singing these lines based on Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven and glory in the highest,’ urged Jesus to silence them. This was his reply: “If these folk were silent the stones would take up their acclamation.” Thus Jesus tells us that the events taking place in Jerusalem, beginning on that day with his entry into the city and ending about a week later with his exit from the realm of death and hell, encompass all of reality, the human, the spiritual, the divine and the natural. These events in the life of this one man are infinitely significant for all existing things, for flesh, for spirit, and for stone.
It must surely by now have impressed you how odd it is that a great religion like ours is so minutely concerned with the experience of one single human being. We dote on his every word and mark his every movement, and find the one truth in him. His words are solid gold and his works are the works of God. I make no apology for this, rather you will have noticed from my recent sermons that I wish to magnify this paradox, that all our wisdom and all our hope in the face of death and the mess death makes of wisdom, lives in this one man, Jesus. The word “king” in the Gospel passage has been added, by the Christian interpreters behind the Gospel, to the text of Ps 188:26, and we must assume that they had very good reason to do that.
Let us look at the historical context for illumination. This is the first day of the festival of Passover and pilgrims are entering Jerusalem from all over the world in great numbers. As they trudged up the hill to Zion they sang the 15 Psalms of Ascent (120-134) to solemnize their steps. The disciples of Jesus sang not a Psalm of Ascent but the Psalm of the rejected stone who became the chief cornerstone: “The stone which the builders rejected/ has become the head of the corner. / This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. / This is the day, which the Lord has made;/ Let us rejoice and be glad in it. / Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech thee, give us success. / Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord! / We bless you from the house of the Lord! (Psalm 118: 22-26).
The Gospel tells us that God has made the rejected stone to be the precious stone, and those who know this sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This means literally that the humble Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and not a warhorse, is rejected and humiliated now but will be King of Kings then. The traditional Messiah is expected on a warhorse in glory attended by troops and angels, the real Messiah comes on a donkey attended by clueless disciples and riff-raff. There is a pertinent prophecy in Zechariah 9:9-10, quoted by Matthew (21:5), “Lo, your king comes to you;/ triumphant and victorious is he,/ humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass/…and he shall command peace to the nations.’ Clearly the Gospel tradition remembers that Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messianic king – indicated by the fact that he rode and did not like all the other pilgrims walk – but in view of what happened to him there they interpreted this symbolic act by means of Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9 to mean a deeply different understanding of God’s definitive intervention by means of the Messiah. Messiah for us means humble peace for the entire world.
It is one thing to understand what the Gospel message is and how it was composed by Christian scribes on the basis of the OT text and the historical events they sought to understand, it is another to accept the interpretation as true. Can we believe that in the actions of this one man reality itself is disclosing itself to us? That the real power that permeates and preserves all existing things can and did become a figure like the one we see here, one whom our authors want to present as glorious and powerful, but in order to remain true to history, to what actually happened, must present him as a rejected stone and a humble caricature of a king, on a donkey. Can we accept that the truth of the deeply real impinges on our world as deeply ironic, that is, as the opposite of what we expect.
The answers to those questions are deeply private, nevertheless, I at least testify that when you begin to answer them affirmatively you will begin to discover the truth about all things, and especially how the world is turned upside down, so that the weak appear strong and vice versa. Indeed, you will discover that this is a vice versa world, as symbolized by the rejected stone and the humble donkey. Look through these ironic symbols and see the world turned right side up, the revolution of the spirit in which the things despised become at last and again the things distinguished and elegant and desirable and true; when Jesus comes into his kingdom.
Now I must leave you where I always do, because no one can do this for you: gazing at Jesus as he discloses to us the truth that we also call salvation, that restores us to health in a vice versa world, where now at last the versa is the vice and the vice the versa, can you see who he truly is? Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? Can you see the Resurrection out beyond the ignominy of the upside-down world, at the end its tunnels of confusion and distress? Blessed is the lowly king who comes to me riding on a donkey! Am I wise enough at last to see in this rejected stone the pearl beyond price? Yes Lord, Yes!