Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
How did we get to Palm Sunday already? Many times in the church, we celebrate when Jesus enters into Jerusalem by waving our palms and singing joyous songs. For some of us, we will jump from Palm Sunday to Easter without even realizing what is in between. Up until this point we have been investigating Jesus’ sneaky stories. What do they mean for us while we are on this journey out in the wilderness of Lent? Jesus has sneakily gained access to our brains through story. He has actively worked on us throughout.
But here, Jesus is not being sneaky. This Sunday kicks off a week of the most blatant death and resurrection and the most blatant commentary on the empire as well as death with new life. Jesus does not slink into Jerusalem for this week, Jesus employs spectacle fully to enter into the city triumphantly. This is not the nice waving of palms that we might imagine. This is a full blown protest against the empire of the day. It is fulfillment of prophecy. It is tactful and yet demonstrative. It is full of vocal protest and deliberate action. Jesus no longer is sneakily moving about. Jesus is making a bold statement about the kingdom of God. It is breaking through and it is now. We do a disservice to Palm Sunday by not lifting our voices against injustice. We miss the point by not proclaiming a new kingdom of God. We miss the point if we aren’t shocked by this drama laid out before us.
What makes it a good protest? First of all, Jesus chooses the time when the most people are in one spot at one time. In order to be heard, you have to be seen by the people who need to see. Jesus enters the gates at Passover. This is the time when everyone is gathered as they head to the temple to celebrate. Next Jesus uses common language that people tap into. When Jesus rides into town on a donkey (Matthew says he rides in on a donkey and a colt to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy) everyone is immediately clued in on two things. One, he is riding in as the prophets have described and two, by riding in like a king but also like a servant, people know how to act. They cry out for salvation and praise.
Timing is everything. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan believe that at the same time Jesus was riding in at one point in town, Pilate is riding in at another gate. Jesus immediately juxtaposes power for the people who need to hear God’s kingdom come the most. After he rides into town, Matthew says he follows up with another spectacle, the cleansing of the temple. It is not by accident that one will follow the other. Finally, Jesus has follow through and a push for more action. Jesus knows that this will not go over well with the power of the day and yet the timing is right, the crowd is right, and God is speaking. By going directly to the temple, people follow him and take action from there. The motion is set and Jesus is ready for follow up and follow through. Ultimately, these theatrics will bring him to court and he will be tried and put to death. A good protest always allows a venue for good to win in the end. Life will triumph over death. God will speak through Jesus and the protest. There will be new life and the marginalized will speak out and be heard. Power will shift and the world will change.
Quotes of the week
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” ― William Faulkner
“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― Buckminster Fuller
“Peaceful, lawful protest – if it is effective – is innately disruptive of ‘business as usual.’ That is why it is effective.” – Naomi Wolf
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.” ― Malcolm X
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ― Desmond Tutu
Matthew 21:1-17 (NRSV) When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “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.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
12 Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
but you are making it a den of robbers.”
14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17 He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
Questions for the Week
What makes a spectacle and protest powerful?
What character would you have been on that day? Where does your perspective come from?
How do you prepare for Holy Week?