Messages of Hope

The Passing Parades…

Published / by Andrew

There is always a passing parade inviting us to join. Like it or not, we are enmeshed in the world where we find ourselves, and we cannot stand on the side lines of life. As they say: not to decide is to decide. We are marching in someone’s parade. Our greatest danger is to be unconscious of this, unaware that somebody’s drum is setting our direction.

The challenge is to choose what is important. Which parade do I follow? Does it matter if I eat meat, or wear the same jeans as everyone else? How often do I change my phone? Which suburb will I live in? Where will I work?

Even these questions betray the pressures of society to conform, and the blinkers society offers us. Why did I not ask which religion I will follow, or how much of my income I will give away, or if I will work for the poor, or for justice? For some folk, the only questions are if there will be food to eat. My neighbour told us that before escaping to Australia, he never knew how many members of the family would come home alive at the end of each day.

The choice of which parade we follow has always been with us. It always has ethical implications.

In the case of Palm Sunday, some commentators think it likely there were even two parades that day!

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, 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’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire… Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. (Marcus Borg, John Crossan The First Week, Day One.)

At the time there was no separation of state and religion. Imperial power was intertwined with imperial religion. The Emperor was God. Although we seek to separate religion and state, the deeper truth is that all  our systems are religious; they reflect the values of our society, and society will fight as hard as any religion to defend what it holds sacred.

Rome’s parade came on a warhorse, with marching soldiers: it was about power and victory. It was the parade which said we are in charge because we have won. We are the conquerors. The power is ours. We own you.

So Rome’s parade was about maintaining the economic and religious status quo— Rome’s status quo. A first step in our being conscious of who we are, and of what seeks to influence and enlist us is to observe the status quo and ask who it benefits.

Jesus’ competing parade was just as political as Rome’s. The story has him coming down from the Mount of Olives, which the prophet Zechariah (in Chapter 14) had imagined to be the place where the Lord would stand when Israel was delivered from foreign oppression. But Jesus rode into the city on a donkey rather than a war horse. Equally well known at the time was the notion that the king who came in peace would ride a donkey

Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9)

People who spread their cloaks spread them for this king, not the king of violence. (Compare the passage to 2 Kings 9, where the cloaks are spread after the anointing of Jehu and he begins his coup.)

Jesus’ theology, in a single sentence, was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind…” And there was a qualifier: “and [you shall love] your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10) This is the basis of the Kingdom of God. In this same passage in Luke he also tells the story commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour, it says, is everybody, even our enemy.

Palm Sunday with its competing parades, is perhaps the starkest presentation of the Christian Gospel, for to love you as I love myself, is to seek no privilege you cannot also have. There is no more challenging way of living. All our questions above about food, clothing, and lifestyle are open again. If we will not answer them to benefit our neighbour as well as ourselves, we have joined another parade.

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The Reading for Palm Sunday in the Year of Luke

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,

‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40 He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’