On a spring day in the year 30, amidst cheering crowds, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. His followers were from the poor and the working class and his message was about the reign of God. An imperial procession led by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, also marched into the city displaying all the power and imperial theology of Rome. This was standard practice at the major Jewish festivals so as to minimize trouble. It proclaimed that the emperor was considered not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.
Jesus’ procession deliberately countered this. This contrast is central to his story. He was committed totally to the God of Judaism and what loyalty to the God of Judaism meant. The enthusiastic and shouting crowds supporting him caught the attention of both the Governor and the High Priest. They were primarily interested in keeping peace and preserving thelr uneasy working relationship. This disturbance meant trouble. It was the classic confrontation between the kingdom of Caesar and the kingdom of God, between truth and power. It led to the inevitable result then as it does still.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
In our time, what are the implications of the situation described above?
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.”
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?