NOW THERE IS ROOM April 1, 2007
Delivered by Jim Eby at Summit Presbyterian Church Luke 22:7-14
It's a tale of two cities. Well, really a town and a city -- Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
It's a tale of two rooms. One in a middle class home in the little town of Bethlehem, and one in the streets of the City of David, the wonder filled, awesome Jerusalem.
But it's a single word the Gospel writer Luke uses toward the beginning his testimony, and toward the end. It's the word kataluma.
The first time, the first room, the first appearance of the word kataluma is in a verse that has captured the imagination of so many writers through the centuries. Luke gives us that verse that has expanded into the Christmas story we tell each other each Christmas. Luke wrote: And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the kataluma."
Our Bible translators since the time of the King James Assembly of Divines in 1643 have done Luke a disservice, I believe. In this one particular instance, they have given us a poor translation of the Greek word kataluma, when they translated that word to read, "...there was no place for them in the inn."
Luke knew the word for inn. He used it in the parable of the Good Samaritan when he used the Greek word pando. That was the word that indicated a place along the road that had a lot of beds and rented you space for a time when you needed to rest or recover.
The kataluma was different. That Greek word indicated the guest room, the large upper room that was built on the homes of the middle class, often on the roof where one could enjoy the cool of the evening, away from the fireplace and the rest of the family activities.
Luke uses the word kataluma in the narrative of the birth of Jesus to describe the place that would be most inconvenient for a young mother giving birth in those days. It would have been upstairs, away from the warmth of the fire, away from the water supply that would have been needed, away from the community of women who always gathered to help another woman through the time of child birth. Luke is telling us, in his own special way, that the birth of Jesus took place in the very ordinary way that children had been born for centuries, in the warmth of the manger like setting that was a part of the houses of Bethlehem. In the midst of a community that welcomed him into this world. A community that held him and admired him and sang him a lullaby, and told him of God's love. That very natural, very normal birthing took place where it almost always took place, Luke tells us, because there was no room for him in the guest chamber, in the large upper room. There was no room there for him then.
Some thirty years later, there would be room for him in another kataluma, this one in the city of Jerusalem, some five miles away from Bethlehem. And this time, in our scripture reading, we have the correct translation of Luke's chosen word. Jesus sent Peter and John into the city to find a man who would lead them to the secret spot.
There is a sense of mystery about this passage which becomes apparent when you look at the passage through mid eastern eyes, and listen to the story with mid eastern ears. There is intrigue woven into the words if we will ponder them. It is obvious that, up until now, the disciples have not been told where the Passover Seder will be celebrated this year. It is obvious that Jesus is in control of the situation. Jesus is orchestrating what will happen and when it will happen.
And so he sends the two disciples he trusts most into the city. Strong, burly, fishermen with whom nobody is going to mess. And they are to go into the city and find a man who will lead them to a house where Peter and John are to give the secret password, and the house owner will lead them to the place where their Passover is to be celebrated.
How will they recognize the man who will lead them to the house owner? They are to look for the man carrying the jar of water. That won't be hard to recognize. No man ever carries a water jug. Never. Ever. It just wasn't done.
Never. Ever. Except when Jesus has made prior secret arrangements so no one, including the twelve, no one will be able to interrupt their time together before he places himself in the hands of those who are most threatened by the words he speaks and the life he lives.
It was a moment of secrecy and tension. It was a moment of high drama that begins a week of tense drama. It was a very special moment as they gathered in that kataluma, that large upper room, that guest room reserved for special guests and revered family members. They gathered to celebrate the last Passover in their experience that would just remind them of to the Exodus from Egypt. From this time forward, the Passover would have new meaning. Because of this experience in the guest room, the large upper room.
There was no room in the first kataluma, in Bethlehem, but there is room in the second, in Jerusalem, room for gracious celebration of the way God makes provision for all our needs.
It's Palm Sunday, and we welcome Jesus into the city, into our city, into our sanctuary. He comes joyfully, ready to celebrate new life that he alone can bring. He comes, ready to be our Lord and Savior. Which kataluma are we? The one of his birth, or the one of the Passover? Or neither of them?
There are really three katalumas. There is one more -- the one of our heart.
Is that one prepared for the Lord we welcome this day with shouts of acclamation? Are our lives so filled with all that we think is important that there is no room in them for him? Or have we that large upper room furnished, as Luke phrased it, our life ready to receive him. Our life ready to be molded into the servant and steward that God intends us to be.
Celebrate this Palm Sunday. Join the chorus that welcomes the pilgrims who come into Jerusalem. Come to the table, break the bread, drink of the cup. Celebrate, and then also involve yourself in the passion of this week. Continue to prepare that room for a resurrected Jesus who is coming to claim all those who will make room in their heart for him.
God, help us to open ourselves to the kingdom you are bringing into our world. Strengthen us for the work of this week ahead. And then overwhelm us again, overwhelm us anew, with the joy of your love and salvation. In the name of our Lord and Savior we ask it. Amen.