Palm Sunday Foolishness

Although I’ve always revered Palm Sunday and the following Holy Week, I particularly enjoy the rare occasions like today when Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is recognized on April 1–commonly known as April Fool’s Day. Like the bit from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Jesus’ actions–his ushering of God’s kingdom through peace and love–lampoon the violent and oppressive ways of Empire!

One was a peasant process, 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’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, 2006

It was an anti-imperial Jewish festival “during which the Jews celebrated their ancestors’ coming out of Egyptian slavery. With Roman soldiers lining the street, Jews gathered and waved palm branches, symbols of resistance to the empire. Passover was a volatile time, often marked by riots and bloodshed. (Recall that Herod of Antipas killed thousands of Jews in the streets at the festival.) When Jesus rode a donkey into the festival, it was a lampoon, like street theater at a protest. Scholars call it the anti-triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Imagine the president riding a unicycle in the Fourth of July parade. Kings did not ride donkeys. They rode mighty war horses accompanied by an entourage of soldiers. So here is Jesus making a spectacle of violence and power, riding in on the back of an ass. (And a borrowed one at that!)

–Jesus For President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, 2008

Jesus also makes a spectacle of what the Savior and King of the Jews should be. Jesus is not a royal and stately king who has arrived to overthrow the Empire with violence or clever political strategy. Instead, the ruler of God’s kingdom–a poor carpenter’s son–comes into the city to expose the evils of the Empire and to release the world from its suffocating grip with love.

Jesus is turning the world’s notions of power and rule and authority on their heads. His theater is a wonderful piece of political satire. In his triumphal entry, Jesus lampoons all the powers of the world and their pretensions to glory and dominion, and he enacts an alternative to the way of the Domination System. He comes not as one who lords his authority over others but as one who rejects domination and comes as a servant. He comes not with pomp and wealth but as one identified with the poor. He comes not as a mighty warrior but as one who refuses to rely on violence. Jesus enacts the subversive, nonviolent reign of God in the midst of the city.

The Word Before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching by Charles L. Campbell, 2002

And by the end of the week, the Empire will torture and kill Jesus–deeming him a fool for ever thinking he could strip their power without raising a fist or a sword.

Foolishness indeed.


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