WEEKLY REFLECTIONS | When the stones would cry out

By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
www.nordis.net

“I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would cry out!” – Luke 19:40

Glimpse of Contemporary History

Sometime in the 60’s, 70’s and even in the early 80’s a lot of church people – priests, pastors, religious, nuns, deaconesses, and other church workers – left their local parishes to work directly with the basic masses.  They helped organized the peasants, workers, urban poor, students, and other sectors of society.  It was then a period of social unrest.  People were clamoring for genuine change.

Church people, in particular, were crying out for new directions in terms of church mission and ministry in order to be more responsive to the challenges of the time.   Of course, they were met by church conservatism and state repression and violence.  Not a few were placed behind bars when Martial Law was declared in 1972.   Some of them just disappeared, never to be found again.   Others went underground, and still others returned to the institutional church.

But some of them remained with the basic masses, serving as chaplains, educators, and organizers.   They were silenced for a while, but not too long after the declaration of Martial Law, we saw again the resurgence of church radicalism as church people started pouring out into the streets to become part of a protest movement that led to the downfall of a dictatorial regime.

There was euphoria with the establishment of a new government, full of hope and expectations.  However, there were some church people who, like John the Baptist’s disciples, were asking:  “Is this the one who is to come?  Or, shall we wait for another?” (cf. Mt. 11).  Years passed with these questions left unanswered.   And today, we see again signs of people’s unrest and hear a crescendo of people’s voices that may again someday become a loud cry for genuine change.

This brief recounting of our contemporary history points us to the fact that without genuine change that deals with the roots of people’s cry, the cry of the people will never stop.

People Who Refused to be Silent

The story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into the City of Jerusalem is a story of a people who refused to be silent (cf. Luke 19:28-40).   This happened in the last days of Jesus’ life and ministry.

According to the Lukan gospel, Jesus started his ministry not in Jerusalem, but among the poor people of Galilee.   It was there in Galilee that Jesus called up his first disciples (cf. Lk. 5).   But time had come when he had to enter Jerusalem.   Hence, Jesus instructed two of his disciples to go to the village ahead of them, and there they would find a colt tied up.  They would untie it and bring it to Jesus.   Then, if someone would ask why they are untying it, they would tell him that the Master needs it.

And so, the disciples went on their way and found everything just as Jesus told them.  They brought the colt to Jesus.  And after placing their cloaks over the animal, they helped Jesus rode on it.   Then, Jesus and his disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, while people were spreading their cloaks on the road.  And according to other versions of the same story, some people cut branches of palm trees and spread them on the road (cf. Mt.21:8; Mk.11:8; Jn.12:13).

And when they came near Jerusalem, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen.  They shouted, “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory to God!”

 But then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus and said, “Teacher, command your disciples to be quiet!”   And Jesus answered, “I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would cry out!”

Crying Out for Genuine Change

As we reflect on this Biblical story at least three questions come to mind.   First and foremost, what were the disciples shouting about that made the Pharisees angry with them?  Surely, the Pharisees got angry not simply because the disciples were crying out loudly.   There must be something in their shout that really irritated the Pharisees.

According to the Lukan story, the disciples were shouting, “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory to God!”   Other versions say, “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna, glory in the highest!”

If we would come to think of it, these are not really bad words at all!  The Pharisees should have been glad that the disciples were praising God’s glory and majesty, considering the fact that the Pharisees themselves were supposed to be very religious people.

But then if we would analyze the words carefully, especially their implications, we would realize that the Pharisees had reasons to be angry and to stop the disciples from crying out loudly.

The disciples’ cry was not just an ordinary cry.   It was a deep cry of hope and faith in God.   That through the “king who comes in the name of the Lord”, genuine change will now be realized.   The word “hosanna” which literally means “save us” is a cry for the fulfillment of God’s saving act for the people.     

During Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were part of the powers-that-be who claimed control over peoples’ lives not only on earth, but even in heaven.  And experience would tell us that when we talk of genuine change, the first ones who would be against it are those who are in power.

No wonder the Pharisees had to stop the disciples from crying out, because they were shouting “hosanna” – God save us!   God transform us!   God renew us!   In effect, they were crying out for genuine change.   Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was very significant.   He said, “If these were silent, the stones would cry out!”

The cry of our time is a cry for change – genuine and meaningful change in society, in the church, but even more importantly in our selves.   Such genuine change is not easy to achieve.   But then, Jesus’ words remind us of the truth that God’s purpose for humanity cannot be hindered by anyone, not even the acclaimed religiosity of the Pharisees.   “If these were silent, the stones would cry out!”

The Stones

What did Jesus mean when he said, “the stones would cry out”?  Well, we should look at this statement symbolically, especially the word “stones”.   In the Holy Scriptures, there are two important symbolic meanings of this word.   Sometimes, it is used to symbolize a deep, strong, unshakable faith in God, like that of Peter’s faith, the rock on which the church is founded (cf. Mt.16:18).   At other times, the “stones”  also refer to those who are despised and rejected, like that of Jesus,  “the stone despised and rejected by the builders, but turned out to be the most important of all” (Acts 4:11).

These two meanings can be combined in the use of the word “stones” in our Biblical story.  In other words, the “stones” are those people who are despised and rejected, people who are pushed into the periphery of society.   Yet, they have a deep, strong and unshakable faith in God and in themselves.   These are the stones, so to speak, that would cry out when the disciples or Christian believers have already become silent.

The silence of Christians, therefore, does not necessarily mean the silence of God.   As the Book of Acts says, God is never left without a witness (cf. Acts 14:17).   The stones would cry out!

Triumphant Entry

Then finally, why was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem considered triumphant?   Was this not a prelude to Jesus’ passion until his cruel death on the cross?   If we would say, it was because the people welcomed Jesus like a victorious king, then we would ask, were these not the same people who cried out for Jesus’ blood a few days later?

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was triumphant, not because of the shouts of people, nor because of the branches of palm trees they were waving and cloaks they were spreading on the streets, although these would symbolize victory.   It was triumphant because, first of all, Jesus himself was able to overcome his fears, his weaknesses and limitations, his self-centeredness in offering his own life in the service of his people in obedience to God.

Jesus’ decision to go to Jerusalem was a very painful decision.   For this would mean that he would confront the powers-that-be:  the powers of Herod, of Pilate, of Annas and Caiphas, and the elders of Jerusalem, the powers of the Sanhedrin.   And Jesus knew for sure that they would make him suffer and die.

However, Jesus had already made up his mind.   He had to go to Jerusalem.   He saw the City, and he wept bitterly (cf. Lk. 19:41-44).   He was moved with compassion, because the people were “like sheep without a shepherd”.   Jesus knew that without such compassion that would permeate and transform the whole rubric of human relations, the people would continue to cry out for genuine change.  They would continue to cry out, “hosanna!”

 Hence, as we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, may we also have the same courage and compassion that were in Jesus so that we may also be able to continue crying out, “hosanna!”  God save us!  Save our country from destruction!  Save us from disunity and discord!  Until such time that God’s saving purpose is fulfilled.   For the moment we stop crying out for genuine change, Jesus said, “the stones would cry out!”  # nordis.net

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