Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Clear Choice


When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting...
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:1-11

On the very first Palm Sunday sometime around 30AD, Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, paraded into Jerusalem from the westside, traveling about 60 miles from his palace on the shores of the Mediteranean. This procession touted the glorious Roman Empire and its 'Son of God,' Caesar Tiberius, who was the 'Savior' and 'Lord,' bringing 'peace' to the entire world. According to biblical scholars Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, this military cavalry represented the domination system, 'the way things were,' with its political power & economic exploitation, legitimated through the organized religion of the Temple cult.

Mark's Gospel highlights Jesus' 'triumphal entry' as a staged event. Starting from the Mount of Olives and riding on a donkey colt [Zech 14:1-4; 9:9-10], Jesus vividly embodies these apocalyptic scenes to the those who first heard the Gospel story in its entirety sometime around 70AD. Jesus and his motley crew of peasants reflected the rebel groups that classically threatened to seize the Temple and overthrow the powermongering establishment. But this was a nonviolent demonstration emphasizing the humility and servanthood of those who pledged citizenship to the reign of God...not Caesar.

The way of Caesar was what the Empire represented to the world: a false sense of peace and justice. It was a dominating system of competition, violence, coercion, celebrity worship, economic inequality and patriarchialism. Ingrained in this system was the need 'to show them who is boss.' Leaders and rulers made it known who was running the show. It was assumed and accepted by pretty much everyone. As we sometimes say about our world "it's just the way things are."

Jesus' way opened the eyes of blind disciples to Caesar's illusions and lies. Jesus invited his followers into God's Reign of peace and justice: poor peasants were fed, the sick and lame were healed, women and children were given status, and disciples were called to imitate Jesus life of suffering service, compassion and humility. Jesus came to criticize and energize Israel's ways. Jesus' social nonconformist way came with a price: the cross. All of Jesus' disciples are called to radical obedience...all the way to death.

Jesus from Gaililee came all the way to Jerusalem for two reasons: a confrontation with the powers-that-be and for his death-and-resurrection. These were a cause-and-effect. Those in places of power seek out ways to destroy those who stir the pot and threaten their privilged status. If we view these events through the nonviolent campaigns of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, we can better understand what was at stake and what led to his assasination. We find new life when we commit our lives to Something we are willing to actually die for.

We are confronted with the prodding question of discipleship: will we join Jesus along the way...all the way to Jerusalem...to the awkward confrontation with oppressive establishment structures and laws...to the demands of the privileged elites...to drop the baggage of privilege & entitlement that so many of us were born with...to view life through the perspective of the periphery...to the cross? Do we have the discernment, courage and energy to join Jesus' procession in every area of life: in our relationships, jobs, spending habits, leisure time and public policy debates?

According to biblical scholar Ched Myers, the Gospel of Mark was written to prod 1st century listeners into a clear cut life choice. This Story continues to make demands. In the end, will we be the ones who pledge allegiance to Caesar's scarcity-infused domination system or Jesus' sharing-suffering-serving-humbling-compassionate reign? We can't ride both of these. We must choose: Pilate's horse or Jesus' ass.

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