In many ways, I love Palm Sunday, because I love the report of how the people recognized and celebrated their Savior before certain evil leaders (later that week) turned the rabble against Him. Yet one part of the Palm Sunday story always has bothered me: Jesus’ boast (how else can it be characterized?) to the Pharisees that even if the crowd stopped cheering Him, “the stones would shout out” in His praise.
Why did He say this? Why was it necessary? What was the point? Here Jesus has stage-managed His own entrance into Jerusalem for the greatest possible effect. With a bit of bravado that might seem unbecoming if we did not understand that the celebrated entrance would draw helpful attention to His necessary message, He has already been successful at shaking up the Pharisees and some of their corrupt leaders. But why rub it in? Here we have a Christ whose whole prior ministry was one of humbling Himself, yet who in this instance seems to self-indulgently revel in His own glory.
The boast seems out of character. It appears in Luke, but none of the other three Gospels.
Sometimes a single Gospel will include a unique passage that seems puzzling until you realize that the passage is an echo of an important passage from one of the Old Testament prophets. The obvious point of including it would be to emphasize again that Jesus was indeed the foretold Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promise to God’s people.
Yet in this case, by cross-referencing my annotated Bible, only one Old Testament reference was made to stones singing, and that one is an obscure and seemingly irrelevant line from Habakkuk about stones that “cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” Yet there, this was not a stone or beam singing praises, but instead lamenting someone who “gets evil gain for his house, to set his house on high, to be safe from the reach of harm.”
It could be that Jesus is making a very obscure, difficult-to-follow warning to the Pharisees: the next line in Habakkuk is “Woe to him who builds a town with blood, and founds a city on iniquity.” But it would take a large leap of logic for the listening Pharisees to understand that a boast about stones singing the praises of Jesus should be taken as a reference to stones lamenting a town of blood in Habakkuk and thus promising woe to them, the Pharisees, who… well, who have not yet even begun plotting to spill Christ’s own blood.
No, I don’t think that’s it.
So, if it’s not a reference to a prophecy being fulfilled, again we ask, what is the point?
The only remaining possibility, as far I can figure, is that I’m overthinking this. Maybe it’s not a boast from Jesus. Maybe it’s just a statement of fact. Maybe his point is that if the bulk of the people recognize God’s glory when they see it, and if even the stones would sing God’s praises, then surely the Pharisees should be able to join in the celebration. Maybe it wasn’t a boast but an invitation. As in: “Why are you Pharisees such spoil-sports? Here I am delivering the message of God’s Kingdom, a message so joyous that even the stones sing its wonder—so why can’t you rejoice in it, too? Why can’t you accept the gift of God?”
I’m not sure that’s the best interpretation, either. But it’s the best I can figure. And it does serve as an invitation for us, today, to join the people and the stones in rejoicing at God’s grace.