Jesus come to re-create the world, not to be the boss of it.
Jesus shows his political genius in this morning’s gospel reading. As Pilate enters Jerusalem from the west, resplendent in his full regalia, Jesus will enter from the east, on a donkey: Opposites headed for a clash. It’s a Broadway-worthy story.
Jerusalem would have been a beehive of activity. There was the festival, crowds on pilgrimage, the hustle-and-bustle of it all made the city noisier, more chaotic, yet more exciting too. Pilate and his entourage must have been a spectacle. But, our plotline doesn’t follow Pilate’s grand entrance, the cavalry, and the pomp. We will focus on the slight figure on a donkey coming from the east.
Instead of a military horse, Jesus chose a female donkey, still nursing her little colt. It has got to be the most unglamorous animal he could have chosen. But, it fulfilled the prophecy from Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion. Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem. Look, your king will come to you. He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt, the offspring of a donkey. (Zechariah 9.9)
Like east and west, riding on a mamma donkey is the opposite of how Pilate would have made his grand entrance. This is another way in which Jesus shows that he is not here to engage empire on its terms. Jesus is not interested in being more powerful than Herod. He has come to re-create the world, not to be the boss of it.
Unfortunately, nobody really understood that. And, if they had, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Jesus had already allowed himself to be handed over to the empire that he knew would kill him.
As the little donkey and her baby carried Jesus into Jerusalem, people started shouting, “Save us…” and “Rescue us…” because they had been living under a heavy-handed oppressor for a long time. They were ready for a messiah, someone to deliver them from the Roman occupation. Whether they understood the political theatre of their savior riding on a donkey or not is hard to say. But, they placed their cloaks on the ground in front of the little donkey because, like the blessed virgin who bore God into the world, the donkey brought Jesus into the heart of the machine, empire, oppression and all its devices. And from the cross, Jesus would announce that it is finished! Some people think that Jesus was saying that his earthly life was finished, or that his mission was complete. What Jesus really meant when he said, “It is finished,” is that the rule of might and power is finished. The age of empire is over and the Kingdom of God is near… slow to arrive, but near. Maybe, just maybe, God really did fall to the ground and become clothed with dirt, which is what flesh is made of, after all. Maybe, just maybe, the seed that was God, took root somewhere between Bethlehem and Calvary and just maybe God was serious about saving the world.
We talk and write about the Bible as if it were just a collection of great stories, and it is that. But what if the thread of truth running throughout each story is that God is re-creating the world into the Kingdom of Love, what if that part is real?
“Save us,” they shouted, “Rescue us…”
I wasn’t there, but my guess is that they were expecting some sort of announcement about a new world order. James and John and already spoken to Jesus about being his vice-presidents when he established his kingdom. What they never imagined is that the announcement would be that it is finished, it’s all finished. Capitalistic craziness, the impulses of mimetic desire, sex, and power, what passes for love, and the inevitable dejection and exhaustion that comes from the chase… all the things we run after… finished. That was Jesus’s big political announcement.
There is another announcement we need to think about today, though, and that is the announcement. The big announcement. In religion, we call it The Annunciation, but it was really more of an announcement, “Hey, Mary… Guess what?” That’s right. If Mary is going to give birth on December 25, she needs to get pregnant today. When The Annunciation falls on a Sunday in Lent we transfer it to a time after Easter, making Jesus a preemie in those years. But, it has gotten me thinking about grand announcements and the ways in which we experience them.
I think that the Holy Spirit is making announcements all the time. Here are a few of the announcements I got this week:
One of my Muslim friends has offered to make Easter lunch for me. .
A non-Christian friend is fasting with me… in solidarity. We are pals.
A friend on another continent reached out to say that she was thinking of me. She is from a much different branch of Christianity.
Another forgave me because I’d been somewhat of an ass and I needed forgiving.
And in all these, I knew that God was making announcements to me. I heard of grace, mercy, magnanimity. And, as much as I love a good Palm Sunday parade, I got the message that it’s really just so much theatre… Palms waving, bagpipers piping… it’s all nothing if we have not fully entered into this new kingdom where mercy and love reign.
As we enter into this final week of Lent, the burden of our own sins may feel heavy, but we can listen to the announcements that God is making: There is mercy, plenty! There is love. Turn from your sin and just begin again. God did not come to condemn, remember, but that we should all have a great life. (John 3:17)
Listen to the announcements God is making to you this week. Be encouraged in the tenderness of a friend, or the naked vulnerability of a brave spring daffodil. These are announcements about the kind of kingdom that will come when at last Jesus’s prayer is answered: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Because that other kingdom? It’s finished.
Linda McMillan lives in Sakaka, Saudi Arabia.
Image: Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem
Artist: Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin
Location: Church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris
Permission: This media file is in the public domain in the United States.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
I call it the Kingdom of Love because God is love. So you can say, “The Kingdom of God,” or you can say, “The Kingdom of Love.” Same-same.
Most translations retain the Aramaic, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord.” That is part of a song found in Psalm 118 and it was sung at the three pilgrimage festivals. I translated it into English so that we could hear it in a different way.
John 19.28-30 (NIV)… “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
John 12.24 (NIV)… “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
I say that flesh is made out of dirt because Adam was made from the dust of the ground. Genesis 2.7 (NIV)… “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Mark 10:35-37 (NIV)… “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” — Pretty cheeky.