Palm Sunday: Anti-Imperial Street Theatre
In their popular work, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, Jesus scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan talk about the contrast between Jesus’ entry into the East Gate of Jerusalem with Pilate’s military/imperialist entry into the West Gate of Jerusalem on the same day. They state the simultaneous nature of these events with a little more certainty than is historically warranted, but we do know that Pilate did not normally reside in Jerusalem, but arrived with extra troops every year to keep the crowds from revolting Rome’s rule during Passover. After all, Passover celebrates the Exodus, God’s liberating of His people from another oppressive empire long ago. Discontent in the Jewish crowds would be strongest during Passover.
So, Pilate comes from the West with extra troops on war horses in a military display to cow the masses. By contrast, Jesus arrives from the East in a carefully staged (getting the colt/foal of a donkey) counter-demonstration. Drawing from Zechariah (not lost on the crowds), he presents a salvation from imperial rule that is not based on greater firepower, but on peace and meekness.
When we celebrate Palm Sunday, we don’t just remember the fickle crowds (so soon to desert Jesus, along with the 12) and their brief recognition/celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We also remember that Jesus presents us with a deliberate choice: Following His Way of meekness, humility, and peace or the Way of Empire and military might. There is no Way to follow Jesus that does NOT break from the military option.
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