“They arrive at the walls, but it’s too late in the evening for the entrance Yeshua has in mind, so they wait till the next day in the straggly settlement outside the gates. Then in they go, Yeshua and the nucleus of twenty or so men and women who have been following him about. The narrow stone streets are packed with visitors who’ve come in from the province for the biggest festival of the year, a festival of death averted, in which the people of the one God remember how he saved them by smiting the rest; and the visitors see, well, something like a parade, with Yeshua riding on a borrowed donkey, and the friends around him shouting make way, make way. Who’s this? It’s another bloody prophet. It’s that crazy preacher who says we don’t need the law. It’s the rabbi from up north who heals people. What, the river-dipping one? No, he’s dead. This is another one. It’s a kind! Rubbish, kings ride on horses, not donkeys. But there are prophecies about donkeys. Maybe he’s the one. Oh come on. This fellow? Where’s his sword? It’s the king, it’s the king! Keep your voice down, idiot. Better get the children indoors, just in case.
Is it a king? The scene is hard to read. It’s like a royal progress and a parody of a royal progress, all at once. Yeshua is doing exactly what a christos would do if he were making a momentum play, gambling on snowballing crowd support. Yet the details are off-script somehow, from the donkey, to the way that only some of the friends seem to be shouting the slogans you’d expect, to the way that the man himself doesn’t have his face set in the shining megawatt mask of charisma. It isn’t clear what’s happening. But something is, and though only a portion of the crowd are young enough, or hopeful enough, or desperate enough, or unwary enough, to give Yeshua their acclaim, quite a lot of them are curious enough to follow and see what comes next: for the parade, or procession, or whatever it is, is clearly heading for the temple, up the twisting alleyways to the top of the city, and.. into the wide forecourt of the one God’s most sacred place…
Yeshua looks around. He sees the doves in their wicker cages, and the half-grown spring lambs in their straw, and the nervous cattle sidling, kept perpetually antsy by the smell of blood that drifts out of the temple’s doors. He sees the money-change stalls where, before you can even buy your animal for the sacrifice, you have to swap the emperor’s dirty coinage for the temple’s own clean currency, good nowhere else. He sees the whole apparatus for keeping this one little walled acre of ground separate from the compromised, colonized world outside. And he begins to shout. Do you call this pure? Do you think any of this keeps you clean? Do you think any of this keeps that at bay?–waving his arms out at the city, the hills, the entire empire. Nothing is pure! This is the house of the loving father who welcomes home his lost children! This is the house of my father, and your father! Do you think you can sell his forgiveness? Do you think there is a price for peace with him? It cannot be bought! It cannot be sold! It can only be given! These are thieves! They promise you are buying what can only be given! God gives freely!”