Sunday 25 March 2018
The eminent Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan sets the scene:
“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. In the centuries since, Christians have celebrated this day as Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week.”
“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. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.” (The Last Week, Marcus J Borg and John Dominic Crossan, p.2)
In this clash of kingdoms lies the heart of Jesus’ message of salvation.
It is fairly clear that Jesus had arranged his entrance, almost like a piece of street theatre. A message acted as the prophets had so often done – Jeremiah wearing a yoke, Isaiah going naked for two years. In the same vein, Jesus appears to have made arrangements with someone to make their colt available so that he could ride into Jerusalem in fulfilment of the prophet Zechariah’s words:
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey”.
By this performance piece, Jesus is making a clear and unequivocal statement that he is the king, the messiah. That is just the sort of claim that his opponents entering the city from the other side do not want to hear. It is just the sort of claim that the leaders of the Jewish people do not want to hear – especially from someone who has no army to back him and defeat the foreign oppressors. It is just the sort of statement that will see him hanging on a cross in the days to come.
On this day, Palm Sunday, we pause and reflect upon this momentous decision that Jesus took on that spring day so long ago to make the ultimate public statement about who he was and why he was here. It was the day upon which he accepted the fate that he knew awaited anyone bold enough to make the claim of kingship in the face of a ruthless empire and a timid and compromised religious leadership.
Let us enter into the Holy Week in front of us, fully mindful of the free and courageous action that Jesus took for us to confront the powers of evil in the world. And let us give some serious thought to the sorts of free and courageous actions that his example might inspire within us.