The Politics of Palm Sunday?

Luke 19:28-40.

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

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘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. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As 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, saying, 
‘Blessed is the king
   who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
 and glory in the highest heaven!’ 
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

Today is Palm Sunday and if my experience (in the North American evangelical church) is accurate then you’d be hard pressed to hear much about politics from the pulpit this morning. Unfortunately we don’t often associate politics with Jesus. Who is Jesus? Well, we say, Jesus came to forgive us and free us of our sins so that we can go to heaven. While this is in a sense true I think we stop too quickly. We preach the good news about Jesus but rarely do we preach the good news of Jesus. The good news that Jesus proclaimed was nothing less than the in-breaking of the reign of God. Look at the gospels and ask yourself how many times Jesus calls people to “repent”. This isn’t just about repenting for thinking hateful thoughts about that jerk who just cut you off in traffic (although it would include that). This sort of repentance is about abandoning a particular way of life and embarking on a new way. It’s about receiving and entering the reign of God: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). What is the reign of God? It is nothing less than all of life coming under the authority of God and the redemption of all things broken. It is a new way of living. A new way of ordering society. Heck, we even refer to the church as a Body and when we hear Body we ought to hear “Body politic”. The church is a political Body because we are a community who has received the kingdom and is seeking to enter into it and represent it in the midst of a watching world.
Ok, so back to the text from Luke that I quoted above. We often hear this text preached on Palm Sunday morning and the preacher usually has something to say about Jesus being recognized as the Messiah and Saviour. This is most certainly true which is why I find it shocking that we rarely pick up on the political undertones (or overtones!) of passages like this (Messiah is a political figure of sorts). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is politically hot so why don’t we look at a few things in the text.

1) This sort of entrance into a city would not have been an unfamiliar sight. In fact, this was how kings would return to their city after battle or after a visit to another city (say Rome). For example, when Herod went to Rome to be made king he would not have returned to Jerusalem under the cover of darkness. This would have been a spectacular event. Any time a king was returning home the city would go out to meet the king and parade home with him. Therefore, when we read of Jesus entering Jerusalem like this we should instantly hear the political undertones. Jesus doesn’t just walk into Jerusalem with a few friends. No, he parades in.
2) If this is the case then Jesus is in a position where he resembles a king. In fact, look at what the crowds proclaim as Jesus is entering the city: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Blessed is the king?! How can this man be king? There is only one king in Jerusalem and that is Herod, king of the Jews! Can you feel the tension?
3) However, Jesus does not enter the city as Herod would. Imagine Herod returning to Jerusalem from Rome. You can imagine the scene! I’m sure there would have been a massive parade with horses and music and Herod riding into the city on his chariot. The majesty! The power! The authority! How does Jesus enter the city? On a colt. A colt? Not even a horse? Jesus enters Jerusalem not on a chariot but on a poor colt. What does this say about real power and authority? What does this say about the politics of king Herod vs. the politics of king Jesus?

Can you imagine what this scene would have meant and looked like? Here is Jesus entering Jerusalem in a royal procession (of sorts!) and as he enters the city the crowds proclaim “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” You can picture the religious leaders who were there. “No! Jesus, order your disciples to stop. Stop saying these things. Be quiet all of you!” Why was this the reaction of the religious leaders? I think they were worried. Here is Jesus entering Jerusalem as king but there is only one king and that is Herod, not Jesus. Imagine Herod hearing of this? No wonder Jesus was crucified. This kingdom that he proclaimed and announced was a threat to many people, especially people in positions of power and influence. It’s also interesting to note what the Synoptic Gospels tell us was one of the first things Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem: he cleared the Temple (talk about abrasive politics)!
So, today on Palm Sunday as we reflect on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem may we get a glimpse of the political, economic and social implications of such an act. May we realize that Jesus proclaimed the reign of God and that this reign is indeed “before us.” The only proper response then is to repent and enter God’s kingdom. However, we should count the cost because this requires nothing less than an entirely different way of doing life together, a way that subverts and undermines worldly understandings of power and economic life.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for prostrating ourselves before idols. Forgive us for bearing the image of these false gods. May we be a people shaped by you, a people where you speak and are made manifest, a people who bear your image, a people that enter and embody your reign here on earth so that all may look, taste and see your goodness. We forsake all things to follow you. May your kingdom come here on earth as it is in Heaven where you are.

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3 comments
  1. Luke said:

    Remind me to link my pastor’s sermon this morning to you once it’s published. It was all about politics, and why Jesus had to die. You might enjoy it.

  2. jt* said:

    Sweet! Consider this a reminder.

    ps – that’s refreshing to hear.

  3. Orlagh Turtle said:

    exactly my thoughts Jonathan…Soli Deo Gloria

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