Tucker Ferda writes that “the weeping of Christ assumes that Jerusalem should have expected ‘this day’ to come…From where does the expectation for ‘the time of your visitation’ derive?” he continues, “What does the disappointment presuppose?” (page 2). Ferda finds part of the answer to his questions in the intertextual connection he finds between the triumphal entry in the Lukan account and the prophetic oracle in Isaiah 52:6-10.
Ferda follows the work of Richard Hays in examining in the Lukan account what Hays calls “dialectical imitation.” This imitation happens when one writer of scripture takes up and responds to the words and work of another writer. Hays describes dialectical imitation “as a process of juxtaposing two literary worlds so that the tensions between the worlds generate meaning” (page 4). An obvious example, in my experience, is the dialogue between Jonah and Joel regarding God’s mercy. This process of dialectical imitation is one of the Lukan author’s favorite techniques (page 5).
In the Lukan account, this “dialectical hermeneutic” accomplishes two things at once, according to Ferda. The technique is used “to demonstrate that the preparation and ministry of the Messiah fulfil Scripture, and to show that Jesus reversed many expectations” (page 6). The Lukan account is the Gospel of the Great Reversal not only in content but in method as well. “The hermeneutic often shows that it is Jesus’ contemporaries, not Jesus himself,” Ferda argues, “who fail to uphold scriptural precedent by misunderstanding or rejecting what God is doing in Jesus” (page 6).
The ways in which the Lukan author adapts an Old Testament text can emphasize the blindness or stubbornness of Jesus’ opponents. At the same time, the way that the author portrays Jesus’ own use of the text can then upend expectations which the audience may bring to the text (including our contemporary expectations). This is the case, Ferda argues, in the Lukan report of Jesus’ triumphal entry in Luke 19:1-4.
Ferda describes how the Lukan narrative both signals the fulfillment of the Messianic expectations of Isaiah 40-52 and subverts those expectations at the same time. This use of the (sub)text accounts for some of the resistance and rejection Jesus experiences. The Lukan author relies directly on texts from Isaiah several times in the body of Luke-Acts. In addition, the Lukan author identifies Jesus most clearly as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
For understanding the Triumphal Entry and the rejection, Ferda argues, it is especially important to notice that the Lukan author portrays Jesus as the one who proclaims peace – a significant feature of Isaiah 52. This is amplified in Peter’s sermon in Acts 10:36, where Peter affirms that God is proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ. The concentrated use of the Second Isaiah passages and trajectories would lead readers who know their Bibles to expect the Triumphal Entry to be consistent with the witness of the prophet.
“But it is clear that Jesus’ entry to the city is a double-edged fulfillment and disappointment of prior hopes,” Ferda writes, “and readers recall that Simeon had said that Jesus would cause ‘the rising and falling of many in Israel” (page 11). The disciples accompany Jesus with joyous songs as he enters Jerusalem. But the entry is met equally with resistance and rejection. “The point is not that God’s plan was thwarted,” Ferda argues, “but that the opponents to the Jesus mission are like those Pharisees and Scribes who, by refusing to be baptized by John, ‘rejected God’s purpose…for themselves (Luke 7:30)’” (pages 11-12).
Ferda suggests that the narrative arc in the Lukan account from chapter three through nineteen “is a microcosm of the trajectory from Isaiah 40 to 52” (page 15). Jesus takes us from the announcement of coming comfort for God’s people to the return of God’s presence to Jerusalem. Ferda details the linguistic and rhetorical connections between Luke 19 and Isaiah 52 to further make his case.
What do we find as the connections and disconnections between Luke 19 and Isaiah 52? The Isaiah text expects that God’s people will recognize God’s arrival on the day. Jesus laments that they neither recognize the coming nor know the day. In Isaiah 52:7, God’s messenger proclaims the good news of peace. But Jesus’ audience doesn’t what produces peace (Luke 19:41). In Isaiah, the expectation is that eyes shall see, but Jesus declares that the truth is hidden from Jerusalem’s eyes.
“Should this thesis prove convincing,” Ferda concludes, “it would mean that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is another case in Luke where the fulfilment of Scripture is manifest, yet not grasped as such or just plain rejected” (page 32). This is the same pattern as we saw at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He quotes Isaiah 61 to launch his mission. But the message was misunderstood and rejected. And the hearers wanted to pitch him off the nearest cliff.
“During this Passover season, what kind of Jesus will appear in Jerusalem?” Emerson Powery asks in his workingpreacher.org commentary. “What kind of Jesus will the American Church proclaim in this bitter and bifurcated period in which we live? Which Jesus,” Powery persists, “will we preach and live out during this Passion season?” That’s the question, isn’t it? Are we able to receive the ways in which the Lukan author both inspires and subverts our expectations? Or do we want to take a conscientious preacher and throw them off a cliff?
If Jesus isn’t the king we want, then the king we want isn’t Jesus. Well, thank you for that, Captain Obvious! I know that sounds like a trivial tautology, but I don’t think it is. We, too, have been formed to expect certain kinds of leaders and certain kinds of leadership – in personal, political, and institutional arenas. The Lukan strategy of “dialectical imitation” is going to be hard slog for us as well.
It may be that Jesus’ “opponents” weren’t so much resistant as they were terrified. What if Jesus doesn’t so much produce resistance and rejection as that he just scares people silly? It’s worth thinking about how you might “play” the line from some of the Pharisees: “Teacher, command your disciples to keep quiet!” We could play that as haughty and demanding. But I think it should be played another way.
I think that perhaps that line ought to be read as a whisper. Put a finger to your lips and have some terror in your eyes. “Not so loud, Teacher! Don’t your disciples know the Romans are watching and listening at every moment? Keep it down, before somebody gets hurt! A lot of innocent Jews could suffer if this thing gets out of hand! For the love of God, will you please get them to hush up?”
How often do we keep quiet in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention? How often do we do that with the best of intentions, with a panicked desire for safety in a dangerous and unpredictable world? We may not find ourselves in a political parade risking a violent response by the authorities – although some of us might (or should). We may simply find ourselves in a difficult conversation in our church community, where the safest course might be to say nothing and thus keep a conflict from erupting. When church fights get going, who knows where they will end?
Of course, Jesus’ words are the same, then, to us. “If these were silent, the very stones themselves would shout out!”
Our expectations are also profoundly shaped by our self-interest. I hear what I want to hear, for the most part. What I hear and see are shaped by what I want and don’t want, by what’s good for me and those I love. If I hear messages that conflict with my self-interested expectations, my first impulse is to reject those messages as wrong. How else can I maintain the status quo that serves me so well?
One of the hardest things to do when confronted with a claim that challenges my settled understanding is to stop and listen. I may not agree with that claim in the end, but the first task is to understand. Agreement or disagreement should only come later. But these days we typically leap right over understanding and get in the express lane for resistance and rejection. Perhaps this text is an invitation to stop for a moment and wonder with Emerson Powery just what sort of Jesus we are actually meeting on Sunday.
If Jesus isn’t the king I want, then the king I want isn’t Jesus. The one who comes proclaiming the gospel of peace will not comport well, for example, with the “Jesus” of White Christian Nationalism. The Jesus in Luke 19 is not a Jesus who shoots first and asks questions later. This is not a Jesus who loves America more than God. This is not a Jesus who underwrites and oversees the historic White Christian hegemony that has structured our national life for nearly three centuries.
If that’s the king I want, then the king I want isn’t Jesus – at least, not the Jesus we find when we actually read the canonical gospel accounts.
Perhaps the question isn’t only Powery’s question. We can interrogate what sort of Jesus we meet in the Triumphal Entry. More to the point, however, we can wonder with some honesty about the kind of Jesus we really want today. When I wonder that way, I find that the Lukan author both informs and challenges me.
Come, Holy Spirit. Form me to want the real Jesus, and not some cheap imitation from my self-interested imagination.
Resources and References
Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Kindle Edition.
Ferda, T. S. “Reason to Weep: Isaiah 52 and the Subtext of Luke’s Triumphal Entry.” The Journal of Theological Studies 66, no. 1 (2015): 28–60. doi:10.1093/JTS/FLV006.
Gonzalez, Justo L. Luke: Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
Kinman, Brent. “Parousia, Jesus’ ‘A-Triumphal’ Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44).” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 2 (1999): 279–94. https://doi.org/10.2307/3268007.
Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Luke (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Malina, Bruce, and Rohrbaugh, Richard L. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Kindle Edition.
Speckman, McGlory. (2014). Jesus and the tyche of Jerusalem: A reflection on the mission of Jesus in Luke 19:41- 44 with special reference to the mission of Kairos in Greek mythology. Missionalia, 42(3), 168-191. https://dx.doi.org/10.7832/42-3-63
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