Read: Mark 11:1-11
This is Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem.
Some might call it the march on Jerusalem or “Jesus’ direct action campaign.” Nevertheless, this is how we begin Holy Week.
A few thoughts about the text before we move on: first, this story appears in all four gospels. However, we’ve made a conscious decision to stay with the Gospel of Mark throughout Lent.
Here’s what you need to know about Mark – we know now that the other gospels use Mark as a source for their (re)telling of the Life and Ministry of Jesus. They rely on Mark, oral teaching, and an additional “Q” source (“Q” comes from the German word for “quelle” which means source). Yes, it really is that simple.
Also, Mark is the shortest of gospels; keeping the narrative straight and too the point, he (or she) writes in a strange style, wherein every sentence begins with the word “And…” This keeps us – the readers—from stopping. “And then Jesus did this…” “and then he did that.” And and and. The movement is fast; Jesus is always on the move, immediately.
In other words, Mark writes with a sense of urgency. So isn’t it appropriate, as we wrestle with the reality of Climate Change, singing songs about DO IT NOW NOW NOW that we are also reading a gospel that embodies this sense of urgency?
And so, Jesus’ direct action campaign formally begins with his entry into Jerusalem; that is, this carefully planned, calculated, well thought out action.
Remember – he sends out two disciples to acquire a colt (which could either be a baby horse or baby donkey) nevertheless, what this points to is Jesus setting up his humble entry. And remember, Jesus wants one that has never been ridden before.
What’s this about? Jesus is doing something new.
He isn’t riding in on a fierce stallion with chariots aflame. He is not relying on the Roman Empire’s symbols of power. Instead, he is relying on the shared economy of his community; that is, his network of folks, to provide said colt.
He then instructs the disciples to untie the colt and if anyone stops you tell them “The Lord has need of it.” Some translations read Rabbi or Teacher, either way, without invoking his name, it is understood who needs it.
At this point it might be good to note that Jesus speaks in and relies on code, at times, in Mark. There’s an instance when he first arrives on the scene and it says he immediately began teaching in parables. His would first teach in public, then decode the parable in private because the disciples wouldn’t get it. But now they do. They understand the purpose of the language Jesus is using.
Next up: Jesus is pictured as riding into Jerusalem on this colt with an entourage of folks – a band of bandits, if you will – who are throwing coats in front of him, waving palms, and singing “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Again, this is all part of the plan. While the entry is still a humble one, in most regards, Jesus intends to make a bit of a scene.
You might recall one of our past Lenten studies when we read Mark Lewis Taylor’s book, The Executed God. Taylor talks about the tactics of the Empire and their daily display of power, control, and terror (vis-a-vis public Crucifixion). He then describes Jesus as engaging in a kind of counter-terror or adversarial (i.e. oppositional) politics vis-a-vis street theater.
That is, Jesus understands the way of Empire and is seeking to challenge its terrorizing tactics by embodying a third way – something counter to the kind of display of power through domination and instead, plans an action that provides an example of a different kind of power. People power.
So the people throw down their coats, something they used to do for kings, but again remember Jesus isn’t claiming to be a king, he merely has an understanding and appreciation for tradition and theatrics.
The waving of the palms, much like the raising of the fist at protests, is a symbol of liberation; it is important to note that palms don’t grow in Jerusalem so again, this took some careful planning and foresight. They had to be cut down and transported for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
So they’re waving these palms that that they’ve cut from the fields – like signs that read, “We Rise”— and they’re singing “Hosanna!” Which comes from one of the Psalms, one of King David’s psalms; again, this is very intentional.
Because it was thought that the Messiah would come from the line of David, they are singing and enacting some of these traditions that celebrate their leader and their movement as they enter into the place where so much of the Empire’s power resides, Jerusalem.
In fact, our story for today ends with Jesus’ entering the Temple – where he will soon be overturning tables and ‘turning up’ if you will. So, what do we do with all of this – this non-triumphal “triumphal” entry? What’s the point?
To make sense out of what we’ve just read, I turn again to Mark Lewis Taylor who offers a reading of the Gospel of Mark and Christianity that makes sense to me as a (wannabe) activist and organizer, but particularly as someone who recently got to accompany a group of young people to our State Capital of Springfield (as you’ve seen in the pictures above): and that is that the Way of the Cross, the way of Jesus is one that takes seriously the kind of adversarial politics necessary to confront the Empire’s tactics of terror.
In other words, Taylor understands Jesus as both teacher and leader of a movement that challenges the terror tactics of those in power; and more importantly, understands Jesus as an organizer of the People. And when we go back through Mark’s gospel, this read makes total sense. We see Jesus out in the world, teaching, healing, and organizing the people. And together, they find ways to resist the oppressive systems of the time.
They eat things that are deemed unclean, they break Sabbath laws and heal one another; they resist as they live into liberation that Jesus seeks to embody. Is this not the Christian way?
We live in a world that is so counter to the Gospel, to the Good News that we were meant to be free, that we too must find ways to resist that which oppresses, that which is certainly NOT good news for the poor, the orphan, the widow, but also is NOT good news for you and me.
As the soon-to-be Resurrected community, we are called to be liberated and liberating people.With this in mind, as Jesus engages in these adversarial politics, I believe he is only adversarial in as much as he is also invitational. Which is to say, Jesus does not enter into Jerusalem saying “let us rage against the Empire!” Nor does he proclaim that it is US vs. THEM.
Instead, he embodies a third way. And all throughout his life and ministry, he invites others to join him, to follow this Way of adversarial politics; of imagining that another world is possible; of living into liberation in community with one another.
Which is why I don’t understand how people get to Easter, or even Good Friday and say, Jesus died for my sins. This kind of individualism, or belief in a personal savior, doesn’t seem to take seriously how deeply communal Jesus is. Moreover, it overlooks this idea that our salvation (which many of us have come to understand as liberation) is relational; my liberation is bound up in the liberation of others.
I am not free, until my sisters and brothers are free because until then, I am benefiting from their oppression –whether it be capitalism, racism, heterosexism – I am a part of this sinful system.
SO, how does this lead us to confronting Climate Change?
One of the ways Naomi Klein maintains a sense of hope in the midst of so much that can easily become despairing, is remembering the Movement. That is, she takes time to celebrate the organizing and creative actions taken by grassroots movements to counter climate change and instead, see it as an opportunity to live into something new; to rethink our economic systems and be in better relationship with people and planet – i.e. ALL of Creation.
So just as Jesus seeks to embody a third way, we come to the issue of Climate Change as an opportunity to reimagine how we live in this world. And we do this as Christians who are called to challenge the systems that oppress and invite others to join in healing, life-giving communities that seek to resist those systems.
In other words, it’s a balance of the kind of calling OUT and IN that Dan talked about last Sunday. When the Syro Phoenetician woman confronts Jesus’ and his xenophobia and instead, calls him to be better; urging him to be the kind of healer, teacher, and leader we so desperately need.
And this is the way of the Cross which counters the kind of self-sacrificial narrative imposed on oppressed peoples by those in power. But instead, empowers us in community; making us stronger than we were on our own. Strong enough to counter Empire. Creative enough to think beyond tactics of that rely on violence and terror.
This is the KINDOM of Heaven we seek to build here on Earth. One that includes ALL of us. And if we cannot think beyond the us v. them narrative, then we are not yet ready to follow the Way of Jesus ’cause we are still embodying the way of the Empire.
Jesus was adversarial in as much as he was invitational. Let us remember that as we enter into Holy Week and consider the Way of the Cross. Let us BE about creating something new.