Political Palms

Last Sunday, we commemorated Jesus final entry into Jerusalem in what has become known as Palm Sunday.  Jesus enters the city on a young donkey from the east, where the day begins.  From the west, where the day goes to die, enters Pilate on a war horse with all the pageantry of the state.  There is going to be a clash between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man.  Ironically it will all occur in Jerusalem, Hebrew for the City of Peace.

Sometimes we are not comfortable with anything that seems “too political” coming from the pulpit or from a church.  But the fact of the matter is the gospel is political.  Collins dictionary defines political as that which “relates to the way power is achieved and used in a country or society.”  Who has the power?  How is it used?

Jesus began his ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then Jesus declared that the prophet’s words had been fulfilled in his arrival.  Jesus had come to make the world a more just and peaceful place.  Fulfilled in his reading of Isaiah, not something we wait for when we die and go to heaven. 

Jesus fed the poor while the economic system set up by the Roman empire fed the rich at the expense of the poor.  Jesus healed the sick while the economic system of the empire let people die.  Jesus was declaring a world turned upside down that brought those in power down and lifted those who had no power.  To get access to God one had to go through the religious leaders and the temple.  But Jesus said his way of living was the way to God (John14:6).  The power was shifting from the religious and political elite to the people and those who held the power were not going to give it up without a fight.

Jesus’ ministry culminated on a donkey ride into the city of peace.  While the people sang Hosanna (I beg you to save us), the traditional song sang by pilgrims for centuries as they went to Jerusalem for the religious holidays, Jesus rode right through the crowd.  This was an overt political demonstration that the way of God was here to topple the way of the world, if we just join in.  Those in power had enough.  The religious leaders colluded with the political leaders and Jesus was executed by the state.  But before they could kill him, Jesus invited us all to pick up the cross and follow him.

The donkey ride was political.  The cross was political.  And Jesus’ invitation to pick up a cross was inviting us to be political too.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Friday’s cross brought a Sunday resurrection.  And if the life and death of Jesus was a message of justice and peace here and now, not just in an afterlife, then so does the resurrection.