Palm Sunday: A Tale of Two Processions

palm-sundayToday many churches celebrate Palm Sunday. Several years ago I read the book The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It tells the day by day account of the events of Holy Week through the Gospel of Mark. After many years of attending Palm Sunday services, this book had a profound affect on me. Jesus, again in his proper historical context, became more alive to me and made more sense to me. He became even more courageous to me.  Holy Week became much more meaningful to me. The book begins with Mark 11:1-11. The authors begin:

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the Kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class…. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire and also Roman imperial theology. [Which was that the Pax Romana is achieved by the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.] The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.

It was through this book that I first learned of the term “domination system” which is a shorthand for “the most common form of social system in ancient and premodern times.” It is marked by three major features: political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation. Really, quite a normal system, set up by the powerful elite class. Jerusalem was the center of this oppressive domination system. Jesus, from the occupied peasant class, was highly critical of this ruling system and the temple rulers who collaborated with the Romans and their puppet Herod. So Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem to confront the powers of this kingdom of Roman oppression and temple collaboration. This was a planned political demonstration as Jesus made his way down the Mount of Olives, riding a donkey as a sign of a peaceful king, with his enthusiastic followers shouting “Hosanna! Save us.”

Luke’s account of this “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem has the ruling elite protesting such enthusiasm:

‘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!

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

Shortly after reading this , I asked my priest if I could impart what I had learned about the first Palm Sunday at an impromptu education hour after the Palm Sunday service, since no education session had been scheduled. After telling about these two processions and the domination system that Jesus was rebelling against, a college student, who did not usually attend church any more, turned to her dad and said, “Now I could listen to that.” I take that to mean that this Jesus was relevant and she wanted to hear more about this peasant, occupied Galilean Jewish Jesus.

Marcus Borg, in a series of his blogs in Patheos this week, is re-creating this work from The Last Week. You can access it here.

A few years later, in February 2012, my wife Janie and I traveled to Israel/Palestine. We made our way down the Mount of Olives, which is in Arab East Jerusalem whose Palestinian neighborhoods are being seized, its homes demolished by the IDF. We saw what Jesus saw: an oppressive, illegal, bitter, soul-starving, strangulating Israeli occupation of Palestine. We saw the illegal modern-day colonizing settlements, the annexation, apartheid separation wall. And, just as importantly, we met the heroic Palestinian and Jewish Living Stones, who are shouting out for justice, just as Jesus said they would. We saw and experienced Jesus in the faces of  Daoud Nassar, Archbishop Elias Chacour, Mark Brown, Zoughby Zoughby, Sami Awad, Rabbi Arik Asherman, Mitri Raheb, and many others. As my friend, Jewish psychologist Mark Braverman said in one of his wonderful sermons: “It is the Kairos time to be a Living Stone and shout out about the injustice and soul-killing (for Israelis) occupation of Palestine.”

I hope these insights of Borg and Crossan will enrich this Holy Week and move you to be a “Living Stone” and shout out against injustice where ever you may encounter it.

IMG_0204Janie’s Painting of the Garden of Gethsemane from photo by Ron Caldwell


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *