Messages of Hope

Tag: Ched Meyers

Rethinking the palms and hype

Published / by Sandy

We need to undomesticate Palm Sunday in our churches! Jesus was staging a kind of counter-demonstration. We need to re-contextualize its symbols into our political moment, and replace our witness back into public space.” Ched Meyers

Ched Meyers on Palm Sunday:
Mark’s Jerusalem narrative commences with the so-called “Triumphal Entry” (11:1-10). But this is a misnomer; this carefully choreographed political street theatre is designed to repudiate Messianic triumphalism. The scene would have been loaded with political significance for Mark’s original readers. Jesus marches into the City accompanied by an army of peasants (11:7f), whose rapturous cries escalate the acclaim of Bartimaeus (10:47f) into a full-blown revolutionary chant: “Blessed be the Kingdom of our Father David” (11:9f). Images from the parade called to mind several biblical precedents: the colt signifying triumphant Judah (Gen 49:11); the return of the Ark to Israel (I Sam 6:7ff); the declaration of Jehu as upstart king (2 Kg 9:13); a royal processional hymn (Ps 118:25f). And the fact that the parade began “near the Mount of Olives” (11:1) would have brought to mind the final apocalyptic battle between Israel and her enemies spoken of by Zechariah (see Zech 14:1-5).

This theatre also alludes to more recent events. It recalls the victorious military procession of Simon Maccabaeus, the great guerilla general who liberated Palestine from Hellenistic rule some two centuries before. According to I Maccabbees 13:51 Simon entered Jerusalem “with praise and palm branches…and with hymns and songs.” And there was an incident of Messianic posturing contemporary to Mark as well. Mid-way through the Judean revolt against Rome (66- 70 C.E.), according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the guerilla captain Menahem had marched through Jerusalem heavily armed and “like a king,” in an unsuccessful attempt to become the sole leader of the rebel provisional government.

But Mark uses all of these popular Messianic images precisely in order to subvert them. This ‘king’, who has already rejected Hellenistic power politics (10:42ff), enters Jerusalem quite unarmed—though just as dangerous. It is not just a ride for Jesus; it represents a symbolic fulfilment of ancient dreams of Israelite sovereignty, and thus is tantamount to a declaration of independence. That’s some pretty powerful political street theatre.

Jesus’ “nonviolent siege” will not follow the Messianic script that equated national liberation with the rehabilitation of the Davidic Temple-State. When Jesus comes to the Temple it is not to defend it, but to disrupt it.

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