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Provocative acts often appear outrageous, but they also include the mundane performed at the right place and time and are common illustrations in the teaching of Jesus. As a child, the Palm Sunday story sounded more silly to me than sacred. In my 4th grade Sunday School class, our teacher made an abrupt change from the movie like hero exploits of King David to the parables of Jesus. Nine year old me found this to be boring and inconsequential.
It would take many more years until wise teachers would connect me to the subversive elements of the Jesus story and its connection to David, to Caesar and all empires. The result would be the first of many times that gospel narratives challenged and judged my mental framework of Jesus's work as being nothing more than an idol. I failed to see the protest in the words and actions of the gospels and did not consider the original meaning of the entry Jerusalem.
Conquering Roman generals and even Caesar himself would make a spectacle out of their return from a successful military campaign. A royal procession would come through town and attendance was mandatory. But on this Sunday leading to Passover, Jesus made his entry and Marks notes that many laid down palms and cried out in celebration. This type of procession is fit for a king, one in the line of David. Except this is not the kingdom of David, it belongs to Rome. And Rome does not like competition.
The ride into Jerusalem on a single colt caused a crowd to see one like the old war hero king David, and it caused the local authorities to see a troublemaker. Mark says he immediately goes to the temple but takes no action on that day. This trip was not of convenience but one of confrontation and destiny. The colt is a parody of Caesar's royal procession designed to give one group hope and another very stern warning.
The idol I once made of Jesus did not include a figure that would challenge any religious or political status quo. However, the events of the week leading up to the crucifixion take place during a massive public festival where military forces would have a high presence to keep the peace. Because of this, the Sunday procession occurs to deliberately provoke reactions, even hostile ones from the most powerful people on earth - the Roman empire and 2nd Temple religious devotees of ancient Israel.
Jordan Petersen, in his book 12 Rules for Life says "If you have something to say, silence is a lie. Tyranny depends on lies." I have come to recognize that the crucifixion was provoked, intentionally, with words and deeds chosen on purpose. They confront human tyranny in the form of empires and religious practices that dehumanize, that separate people into worthy and unworthy, that make gods of peace act violently. The parade into Jerusalem is an unexpected challenge to the Roman empire, the temple, as well as any other misguided empire and religious system. The challenge to empire and the temple are linked so tightly that the crucifixion of Friday is the result of empire's love of power and the temple's commitment to remain a "den of robbers."
In the two decades to follow, the first recorded Jesus mystic Paul would take these local events and present them as more than an execution of a beloved protester who picked the wrong week to make his point. To the Corinthians, Paul would write that these actions and provocations are foolish to the world, but they are the wisdom of God. At the end of the letter, Paul would give the earliest written account of the resurrection of Easter morning which is still observed by Christians worldwide. However, his letter starts by proclaiming to know "nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (2 Corinthians 2). Following Christ, for most Christians, has not come anywhere close to the example of a crucified political and religious provocateur and it certainly not on the mind of most Easter celebrants.
Instead, there isn't Christian unity around respect for all people regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. Many of the most dividing voices use obscure biblical references, archaic hermeneutic schemes, inferences from tradition, or outright lies to propagate views that dehumanize. It makes me wonder, if they saw someone ride into your community and then to your place of worship tomorrow, what do you suppose they would have to say?
Jordan Petersen, again, in his book, 12 Rules for Life, turned a familiar Christian doctrine on its head when he said that most teaching emphasis is that Jesus died on the cross, and because of that we are to believe in him. Instead, he has come to accept that Jesus died on a cross because he believes in us. This belief in us means that following Jesus may not be about being weak, agreeable, and accommodating to the forces in our world, especially when they dehumanize on a national or worldwide scale. May the cross propel us to justice and forgiveness for all.
You likely won't see a colt awaiting you tomorrow. You will, however, see many striving to find acceptance, equal opportunity, necessary supplies, food, and peace in their physical and their emotional environment. Following Jesus, on Palm Sunday, means to target the forces that exploit them all. To do so also means provoking and confronting these forces nonviolently, with eyes wide open to the potential mockery and suffering. It demands that we avoid the lies of the heart committed when we are silent by speaking up and against the idols of power, greed, and hatred. In the difficulties that arise we can rest in in the confidence that this way, of a crucified messenger of heaven, is the wisdom of God.