Week of Sunday March 20 - Palm Sunday
Gospel: Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘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. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As 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, 38saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
Macus Borg and John Crossan tell us there were two
processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class… On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. [Pilate came to keep the peace at Passover. And by peace, I mean the peace that suited Rome.] Jesus's procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate's proclaimed the power of empire... Pilate's military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology.[The Emperor was God.] (The First Week, Day One.)
Which parade will we attend? Rome's parade comes on a warhorse, with marching soldiers: it is about power and victory. It is the parade which says we are in charge because we have won. We are the conquerors. The power is ours. We own you.
Jesus' parade has a king coming in peace: Zechariah had prophesied that a future king would come into Jerusalem in humility, riding on a colt, the foal of an ass. (Zech 9:9) It almost mocks the war horse. Jesus' parade was the celebration of the one who taught us to love one another as we love ourselves— that is what it means to be victorious. True power comes from understanding that everyone is our neighbour; we own no one. God owns us.
There is a parade every day. Passing fashions. Populist causes. Invitations to hate those someone has defined as different. The promise of being on the winning side— more money, more success, safety. All these are part of the Roman parade. Follow us, worship us, and we will let you share in the benefits— as our slaves.
Which parade will we follow? The Easter readings are dreadfully stark. There is no subtlety about their claims on us. If we follow the Roman Parade, the fashion of the moment and the consumerism of the day, we will end up in the crowd crying out, "Crucify him, crucify him."
If we follow the one who brings peace, we will end up being on the side of the crucified. In the gospels, there is no neutral ground. "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters," says Jesus. (Matt 12:30)
We may be fortunate and live our days in relative peace. We may be blessed to do good works in our society, and have people remember us with inspiration, and affection. But each time we speak for the love Jesus taught, we mark ourselves, we single ourselves out, as one of the others— ripe for blame. To follow Jesus is to choose not to be on the side of the winners.
Sometimes we will be able to remain silent. We will be able to go about our business, do some good, and stay out of sight. But there will always be a time when someone the crowd will see us and demand to know whose side we are on. And if we speak for truth and honesty and love we may be crucified just as effectively as the one hung on the cross. Words, prejudice, rejection by our peers— all these are among the weapons of the little empires of our time. And some of those who pick us out will bring us down, take our job and our house, and the people doing it will be sure they are doing a good thing, or simply enjoy inflicting the pain.
Is this too grim a picture of life? Where's the joy?
The beginning of resurrection is to have a vision; a vision of a world where everyone belongs. It is to take the image of a land flowing with milk and honey seriously; to see that love and justice are springs for true wealth and well-being. And it is to see injustice and greed for what they are; the naked taking power of empire, and to understand deeply that we cannot serve God and mammon. The beginning of resurrection is to know that making others less is not only an offence to them and to God; it is to damage ourselves in the most fundamental way, because it robs us of our humanity.
And in the stark contrast between Palm Sunday and Easter Day we can see how much resurrection can cost. But the tragedy of following the wrong parade is even more costly. Next week Peter will deny Jesus. All his followers will flee. But that failure is nothing like the tragedy of being in the wrong crowd and not even realising we are shouting for the death of the innocent or, worse, that we thought this is what God would want.
Every day is a Palm Sunday: it always asks, "Which parade will you follow?"