Holy Week Reflections: Monday
Dr. Hulitt Gloer

This week’s reflections will focus our attention on the events of Holy Week, the week that changed everything. The Gospel of Mark gives us a day by day account of the events of that week (Mark 11-16).  Using Mark’s outline as our guide, we’ll explore those events beginning today with another look at the day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday.

Don’t you just hate it when you find yourself in the wrong line? It frustrates me to no end.  I’m standing in line at the grocery store and the line to my right and the line to my left seem to be moving while the line I chose (because it had the fewest people in it) is just standing still. Or I’m in line to buy tickets and popcorn at the movies and there are multiple lines. The line to the right of me and the line to left of me seem to be moving like well-oiled machines, while the line I have carefully chosen is sputtering at best. There seems to be a direct correlation between how slow my line is moving and how fast curtain time is approaching. Being in the wrong line is frustrating.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things the examples above are quite trivial. The results have little significance but there are some lines that have great significance, even more significance than we can know at the time. Consider this. In the spring of the AD 30, two lines were approaching the city of Jerusalem, one from the east and one from the west. 

From the east, an itinerant teacher was riding a donkey, a service animal, a beast of burden, over the Mount of Olives into the city. There were people lining the streets waving palms and shouting messianic chants, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David.” They were obviously Jews who had lived under the domination of foreign powers for most of the last 500 years, hoping beyond hope, that this man was “marching” on Jerusalem to establish a new Davidic kingdom. Imagine the scene as foreseen by the prophet Zechariah:

Lo, your king comes to you;
Humble and riding on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

From the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, was riding from his palace in Caesarea-by-the-Sea. While this beautiful Roman city built by Herod the Great on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Pilate made it a point to be in Jerusalem for the major Jewish festivals. This was especially true for the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Freedom, which celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. This celebration, when thousands of Jews came to Jerusalem, could provide the perfect backdrop for a Jewish revolt and history tells us that revolutionary fervor was at a fever pitch throughout the first century. This was a time to show force and Pilate knew it, so he rode into the city on a war horse at the head of an impressive procession. Try to imagine it: cavalry on horseback, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, swords, spears, Roman standards topped by golden eagles shining in the sun, the  sounds of galloping horses, drummers drumming, horns sounding, feet marching, metal clanking against metal. Pilate’s procession was a clear demonstration of Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology, according to which, Caesar was not just the emperor, he was the “son of God,” the “lord,” and the “savior” of the world. 

So whose entry was really “triumphal”? I mean, if you had been in Jerusalem on that spring day, whose line would you have chosen? Pilate on his warhorse with trumpets blaring announcing his arrival and the might of Rome at his command or Jesus on a donkey? Of course, we would have chosen to be with Jesus. Two thousand years later that’s easy for us to say but if we had been in Jerusalem in the AD 30, the choice would have been crystal clear: Rome wins! Who in their right mind would get in line with Jesus?

 Pilate’s procession was an announcement of what is: a world dominated by the top 7% of the population – the few, the wealthy, the powerful, in a world where everyone else exists for the personal benefit of the ruling elite, not for the common good; a ruling elite that ultimately controls all things economically, socially, politically, militarily, even religiously; a world where human life is cheap and ultimately expendable.

Jesus’ procession was an announcement of what should becould be and ultimately will be: a world where love, justice, and mercy reign and humble service is the order for every day in every way; where no one is expendable and people live in right relationship to God, each other, and their possessions, possessions that are meant to serve the common good. Where loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and our neighbors (i.e., everybody and especially those in need) as ourselves is the most important thing in the world today and every day.

Now you know the Palm Sunday options and it’s time to get in line again. There are always the same two choices. Pilate’s way (the world’s way) or Jesus’ way but be careful. The right line may appear to be the wrong line and the wrong line may appear to be the right line. Power and might and wealth and our need for “security” may deceive us once again. Powerlessness, weakness, and poverty may also deceive us once again. On that first Palm Sunday in AD 30 which line would you have been in? Are you sure? More importantly, on Palm Sunday in AD 2020 which line did you choose? Pilate or Jesus? Remember, if you chose Jesus, his Palm Sunday ride takes him to a Roman cross on Friday. If you are not willing and ready to join him there, Pilate will always be most happy to have you.

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