In the year 30, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem amidst cheering crowds. His followers were poor and from the working class and his message was about the reign of God as different from current religious and political practice. So as to minimize trouble, another procession displaying the power and imperial theology of Rome and led by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, also marched into the city. This was standard practice at the major Jewish festivals. It proclaimed that the emperor was considered not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.
This contrast is central to Jesus’ story. He was committed totally to the God of Judaism and what loyalty to the God of Judaism meant. The contrast between the laws of the world and the law of God doomed him. The enthusiastic and shouting crowds caught the attention of both the Governor and the High Priest. They were each primarily interested in keeping peace and preserving their uneasy working relationship. To them this disturbance meant trouble. The moment that seemed to be the height of Jesus’ public acceptance also began the process of his public betrayal, his public failure, and his public abandonment. It was the classic confrontation between the kingdom of Caesar and the kingdom of God, between truth and power. It led to the events that followed and to the type of outcome that happens still.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Read the Palm Sunday narrative in scripture. Do you see any implications for our time?
What is your choice?
When the great crowd that had come to the feast heard
that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was disturbed. The people asked, “Who is this man?” And the crowd answered, “This is the Prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”
The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him!”
What is most amazing about the Lord and his Passover? It is the fact that he achieves glory through humiliation. He triumphs by accepting suffering and death, things that we, in our quest for admiration and success, would rather avoid.
Here in the Passion narrative, we trace the struggle, one scene at a time, between the Word of God and the ways of the world. We see all the forces of evil collude and collide. We watch as Jesus, caught in the grip of religious and political agendas, goes on speaking out, doing good, regardless.
The tragedy of this event was the fickleness of the people. At this point they are acclaiming the Lord Jesus as the long-expected Messiah – within a few days they were crying for His death!
But everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms. Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule. Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing. Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king. Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem. He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.
The world has a history of denouncing and killing messiahs who don’t deliver what it wants. Moreover, the world does not want a God who is God over against the world. Rather, the world wants a lapdog god it can domesticate and control, a sweet god who indulges and blesses the sickness, the selfishness–in other words, the sinfulness of the world. The world does not want a messiah, or for that matter, doctors or lawyers or pastors or parents who give people what they need. The world wants a messiah and doctors and lawyers and pastors and parents who give people what they want.
Two processions entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The same question, the same alternative, faces those who would be faithful to Jesus today. This is the question of Palm Sunday and of the week that is to unfold: Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in?