“Spreading Cloaks”


“Spreading Cloaks”
A Message on Luke 19:28-40
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 14, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

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I want to start out this Sunday, Palm Sunday, by looking at something that has become somewhat of a cultural phenomena: the red carpet.

Now when we hear someone say that they are “rolling out the red carpet” it means that extreme hospitality is being shown to someone important or famous.

If you’re like me your think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards or some other awards show where celebrities pull up in big, fancy cars, get out to the flashes of the paparazzi’ cameras, say a few comments (usually politically oriented or something about how environmentally conscious they are), and then walk into the building… all on a big red carpet.

I did a little digging to find out the origin of the red carpet. It turns out that the first mention of a red carpet comes to us from the ancient playwright Aeschylus in his play, “Agamemnon,” written somewhere around 458 BC.

In this play the title character, Agamemnon returns from Troy. His wife, Clytemnestra, as part of welcoming him back, offers him a red path to walk on. She says,

“Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.”

But Agamemnon isn’t too sure about it. Knowing that only gods have something that nice to walk on, he expresses a reluctance to walk on it. He says, “I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.”

Ironically, the woman who creates the use of the red carpet ends up murdering Agamemnon in the play. Bummer.

So we see the “red carpet” goes back a long ways. (Ironically it wasn’t used for the Academy Awards until 1961.)

Nowadays the red carpet is used for someone special and even then for a special event.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s Gospel we find people using an ancient equivalent of the red carpet for someone special and for a special event. The people laid their cloaks down on the road ahead of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Now what exactly is a cloak?

When I was in 5th grade at Cooper Elementary School my teacher was Mrs. Pat Waters. She was a great teacher. I can still remember in the winter time her telling us to go to the back of the room and get our “cloaks” as we were preparing for the end of school. I had never heard that word before but figured out pretty quickly that our “cloaks” were our jackets, coats, and sweaters, but I had never heard the term “cloaks” before.

In Jesus’ time people wore two major articles of clothing: a tunic, which was worn as an undergarment, and a much costlier cloak worn as an outer garment.

The cloak was the much more important of the two. It not only provided protection from the weather, especially in the winter time, but it was used as a kind of tent to sleep under outside. [Source: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/11586/Tunic-Cloak.htm]

The cloak was so important that in there were laws about that Moses gave the people. In Exodus 22:26-27 we read, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”

We also find a similar law in Deuteronomy 24:12-13: “If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God.”

Cloaks were important. Very important.

In the 10th chapter of Mark we are introduced to Blind Bartimaeus. He is a beggar on the side of the road who calls out to Jesus as he hears him walking by. For a beggar, the cloak was spread out in front of them as they sat on the ground. People would toss coins to them that would land on the cloak making it easy to gather the coins together. Plus, being poor, they often didn’t have a house to live in. The cloak was their home.

That’s what makes it even more impressive when Mark’s gospel tells us that Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus when called. Being healed of his blindness, Bartimaeus will be able to work and make a living. He will no longer beg. He discards his cloak, his most valuable possession, to follow Jesus.

On Palm Sunday people took their cloaks, those valuable pieces of clothing, and placed them on the ground to make path of royalty and dignity for Jesus.

Now there are a couple of things I want us to understand about this. First is the fact that the road was probably not nice and smooth. Today when we hear the term “road” we think of a nicely paved concrete or asphalt surface. They didn’t have those kinds of roads back then. No the occupying Roman forces did construct roads with bricks or cobblestones but they were not like our concrete or asphalt. Most of the roads were dirt or gravel, and they certainly were not like roads today.

Another point about roads back then was that they were not clean. They were traveled by humans and animals, and when you have animals you have… well… what animals leave behind, if you know what I mean.

So, that is something you don’t want to lay your cloak down on. Not only that, but Jesus is riding a donkey. Now our scripture today from Luke says colt, but the other gospels have him on a donkey, so I’m going to go with that. Plus, a young male donkey is a called a colt anyway.

Regardless of the equine species, you sure don’t want a donkey to… how should I say this… you know… on your cloak.

My brother Dalen and his wife attend a huge United Methodist church in the Metroplex. I don’t know if that church still does it, but he told me that in the past on Palm Sunday they would actually have a live donkey in the service. Someone would portray Jesus and would ride right down the center isle on a live, honest-to-goodness donkey.

Being an old farm boy and knowing a few things about livestock, including donkeys, I asked him, “Well, what do they do if the donkey… you know.”

He replied, “It’s not a problem. The donkey wears a diaper.”

“A diaper? As in, well, a diaper?”

“Yep. They put a big ol’ diaper on that donkey.”

Now the scriptures don’t tell us but I think I’m pretty safe in saying that when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, the donkey did NOT have on a diaper.

Which makes it even more incredible to me that people would lay their cloaks down before Jesus and the donkey as they entered Jerusalem.

So why would they do this? Why would they do such a dramatic thing?

I think in order to understand it we need to have the mindset of the Jewish people in that area at that time. The messiah was promised to be coming. The prophets had written about it and their words were in the ancient scriptures. The area was under the political control of the Romans, a foreign power who used military control to keep the Jewish people in line.

I could see how they would think that the time was ripe for the messiah to come. And this Jesus comes on the scene and does things that no ordinary human could do. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind (just ask Bartimaeus), the lame walk, the deaf hear, people who can’t talk can talk. He knows the scriptures and stumps the leading religious leaders of the day.

They knew the messiah would go to Jerusalem, the nucleus of Jewish life at the time, and establish a reign that would last forever. This was it! This was the time! Jesus was the messiah! He’s going to drive the Romans out–hopefully by force!–and bring the Kingdom of God to earth!

So the Jewish people, who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, were very excited about Jesus entering Jerusalem! This was history in the making, and they were going to get to witness it!

So they lay down their cloaks in Jesus path, and they pulled branches off of palm trees (another sign of royalty), and shouted,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John the people shout “Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

So it’s a big celebration.

Now they probably thought it a little unusual that Jesus was riding on a donkey instead of a mighty war steed. After all, a donkey was a beast of burden, a animal of peace. A large horse was an animal of war. So yeah, that might have been a little unusual.

And with us having the advantage of hindsight we know why Jesus chose a donkey. We can see and understand all the ironies of Holy Week, how God chose to save the world in a way much different than humans would have done it.

what can we learn from this? What can the Holy Spirit teach us that is applicable for our lives? After all, we don’t wear cloaks much in Texas.

I think one of the things it teaches us is to be faithful to God in both good times and bad. We don’t want to be like the Jewish people who laid down their cloaks for Jesus’ donkey to walk on one day and then be yelling “Crucify him!” just a few days later. God is still God, even when he does things different than we might be expecting. Being human we can’t see the whole picture, but God can. Let’s give Jesus the red carpet treatment not just when things are good, but during the tough times as well.

Another thing I think it teaches us is to be a people of peace, not war. Now I’m not a pacifist. I want to be, but I’m not. I believe there are times when war must be fought. But in our everyday lives we should strive to be people of peace, not conflict. Forgive the person that cuts you off in traffic. Don’t strike back at the person that embarasses you on social media, even though you want to. When someone breaks your heart don’t let it become a breeding ground for bitterness and anger and resentment. Let it go. Replace it with love, and let love flourish.

Jesus didn’t come to change the world by force, but by love. That’s why he didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a mighty stallion, choosing instead a lowly donkey. He changed the world not by might, but with a servant’s heart that led him to the cross.

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are willing to lay down in front of Jesus? Or maybe another way of saying it is this: what are you NOT willing to lay down in front of Jesus? What is your metaphorical cloak, the something in your life that you prize, that you view as so valuable to you that you don’t want to let go of it, much less lay it on the ground before Jesus and let his donkey walk on it. If we are willing to roll out the red carpet for celebrities, who are just humans, what are we willing to do for the King of Glory, Jesus Christ?

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem leads to the cross, the one he bore for us out of his love for us. Let us follow his example and let love lead.

And if you ever come across a donkey wearing a diaper, let me know. I want to see that.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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