Luke's Triumphal (?) Entry
I am probably a redaction critic at heart, by which I mean that I have the most fun with the scriptures when I am looking at how one author has changed (or edited, or if you like, redacted) another's work. Take, for instance, what we call "the triumphal entry" into Jerusalem. The texts are Matt 21:1-9, Mark 1:-10, Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-19. It's pericope #269 if you have an Aland synopsis; if you want to make your own synopsis of the gospels on this or another text, check out The Five Gospel Parallels. With the help of Preaching through the Christian Year C (PCY), here's a short list of things that set Luke's version of the story apart from the way most of us are used to thinking of the story.
- We have heard Jerusalem mentioned a few times in Luke, most often in connection with Jesus having "set his face" to go there. Now he's there. After his entry into the city, he will weep over it (Luke 19:41ff). This scene, #270 in your synopsis, is unique to Luke.
- There are no "Hosannas" and no one is trimming palm branches and laying them in Jesus' path. The PCY authors comment, "Because those [displays] belonged commonly to nationalistic demonstration and parades, perhaps Luke wants this event to carry no such implication" (166). In any case, it is a quieter scene than the one I have running through my mind on Palm Sunday.
- The disciples are the main audience for Jesus' entry, rather than a festival crowd of adoring fans. Matthew and Mark talk about a large crowd in the city for Passover watching this "triumphal entry." John speaks of a crowd, too, who have gathered to see the one who raised Lazarus from the dead. By contrast, Luke says Jesus is received by his disciples (see esp. Luke 19:35-37). This "is not the group, says Luke, that later called for Jesus' crucifixion. To be sure, Jesus' followers did not understand him or the nature of his messiahship, but neither are they persons who sing praise and scream death within the same week" (PCY, 166). (Hmm... there goes at least one sermon I've preached a time or two, not to mention some memorable hymn texts.)
- Luke makes no reference in this scene to David or Davidic images of the messiah. Maybe this is Luke's intentional soft-pedaling of the political implications of Jesus' ministry ("Really, we're not a threat to the status quo!"), maybe not. Either way, if we think of the triumphal entry and think, "The people turned on Jesus because they wanted a political messiah king and he wasn't one," we have to look somewhere else besides Luke's account of things to conclude that is what people wanted.
Preaching and Redaction Criticism
So, this is interesting stuff. Will it preach? If so, how?
I hesitate in any sermon to say things like, "Luke's Jesus says _____." Or "In Luke, there are no palm branches." The first makes it sound like there are/were four (at least) Jesuses, as if each evangelist had his own personal pet named Jesus. Just "Jesus says _____" is enough. As for pointing out differences in the gospel accounts within a sermon, I have heard this done well a few times, but I try not to make a habit of it. Why? (1) It can make Bible reading into a parlor game. We're playing "Where's Waldo?" by another name ("Where are the palm branches?"). (2) It emphasizes the gospel writers at the expense of their message; we start caring more about Luke than about Jesus and what happened in the text.
So the short answer is, "No, this stuff won't preach," or "Preaching this stuff will make you sound bookish, out of touch and concerned about something besides the 'one thing needful'." However, read on.
I would not try to build a sermon around the insights provided by our redaction critical dive into Luke 19, but I would use them to get the tone of the day right. By "right" I mean that when the text is from Luke's gospel, I would try to have the sermon and service feel subdued yet hopeful, rather than "triumphal" and characterized by "Cameron craziness." (Cameron is the name of Duke's basketball arena.) I would not announce my findings or intentions to people ("Welcome to worship. Today our service will be subdued yet hopeful."). I would just try to craft something like that, and I would know to craft something like that because I had done a little redaction criticism as I studied the Gospel text.
Ain't biblical studies grand?