The other side of Palm Sunday
Palm or Passion Sunday heralds Christians into Holy Week. This week is considered the most sacred of all weeks in the church. It is the most sacred of all weeks because it celebrates the redemptive events at the heart of the Christianity, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Palm Sunday equally marks the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem. As he entered into the holy city the little children and others welcomed and escorted him. The Bible recounts in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40, and John 12:12-19 that Jesus rode on a donkey. They threw their clothes on the donkey and Jesus sat on it. They equally spread their cloaks on the ground, while others carried tree branches. The crowds walked in front and behind him. They shouted as he entered, “Hosanna to the son of God. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord….” The whole city was thrown into uproar and tumult as Jesus entered. Some in the city enquired, “Who is this?” to which some answered, “This is Prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” When Jesus arrived in the city he immediately went to clean the temple, the heart of Israel’s religious worship and the core symbol of their relationship with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
The sacred temple, the heart of Israel’s religious life had been turned into the capital of exploitation of the poor and vulnerable people. The temple that is to be a place of prayer had been turned into a market place and habitation of thieves. Jesus standing on the tradition of Israel’s 8th century BCE prophets who advocated for social justice and religion that frees people from the yoke of politico-economic oppression, denounces the evils in the temple, overturns the tables of the money-changers and recalls the authentic purpose of the temple. This was too much for the religious leaders in charge of temple worship. They saw it as an affront on their authority. They also saw this as a threat to the economic empire they had created from the temple. The religious leaders where equally enraged by the crowd calling Jesus, “son of David.” This is a royal title that they saw as a threat against their positions. In Mark 11:10, the people say, “God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Praise God!” So it is about a kingdom, a kingdom different from one rooted in profiting and marginalisation of people.
Jesus’ attack of temple worship should not be separated from the Palm Sunday reality. He enters the city for a purpose. And this is one of the purposes to cleanse the temple and decry the socioeconomic and political evils perpetrated there. Everything that happens as Jesus enters the city is significant. Though Jesus is riding on a donkey, a symbol of peace and humility, his entry is a countercultural-entry and confronts another entry that was taking place into the city. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in “The Last Week; What the Gospels Really Teaches About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem,” are of the opinion that; “Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the begging of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year.”
Of these two processions they write that the one of Jesus was a peasant one, while the other is an imperial one. As Jesus who comes from the peasant village of Nazareth entered from the east cheered on by his peasant followers, on the other side of the city Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria also entered. These two authors note that Pilate as governor came to ensure there is peace at this important time among the Jews, to ensure there is no insurrections against Rome. Passover celebrated Israel’s liberation from socio-economic and political powers of an earlier empire, Egypt. For Borg and Crossan, “The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.” They reveal that in Roman imperial theology and domination system, Caesar is the son of God and is lord on earth. Confrontationally, on the other side of the city Jesus was being heralded as the son of God and messiah.
Even if one does not totally agree with these authors, the fact remains that the lifestyle and kingdom that Jesus represents and of which he king is different from that of Rome and the temple. In celebrating Palm Sunday the vision and message of this humble king should not be forgotten. After all in the Matthean text, he quoted from Zechariah 9 verse 9. Zechariah 9:9-10 states of the coming king thus: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from E′phraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut o ff, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” It is true that Jesus does not come as an earthly political king, but he is king of a different type. He is a king who comes not to take over an earthly political kingdom or compete with the political leaders of this world but to promote a life in which all humans live as brothers and sisters of the creator God, the king of the universe. Jesus’ kingdom project is to restore humanity back to God.
In celebrating this Palm Sunday, let us keep this other side of the feast in mind. While not ignoring the spiritual reasons of Jesus’ entry, we are called to join King Jesus in making this world a place where the will of God is done and righteousness prevails.
Ikeke, a priest of Catholic Diocese Warri, is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delta State University, Abraka.
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