Holy Protest: Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11, adapted by Wilda Gafney from her book, A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church
Now they had come near Jerusalem and reached Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village before you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; release them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Son of Woman needs them.’ And they will send them immediately.”
This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Look, your sovereign is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that were going before him and the one following were shouting, saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Holy One!
Hosanna in the highest!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shook, asking, “Who is this?”
The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life and faith. It was also the center of power of the Roman empire of that time. Jesus’s entrance was an act of protest against the power and privilege. It was a march, a demonstration, a witness. Knowing that transparent tactics of fear and control could agitate resistance Roman leaders generally wanted Jerusalem lightly policed, except during large festivals.
Passover was a large festival. It would draw a couple hundred thousand people to Jerusalem. Passover was, and is, a celebration festival of remembrance. Passover tells the story of freedom, of exile and return, of liberation from Pharaoh’s oppression and captivity. There’s nothing like a festival commemorating the deliverance of people from their oppressors to make the modern-day oppressors nervous.
An important side note and contemporary connection, these stories of Jesus’s death have been used to craft violent anti-Semitic theologies that blame Jews for the death of Jesus, and have been used to incite violence against Jewish communities. Of course the powerful and privileged are always are always nervous of liberation.
Rome would increase the presence of imperial troops in and around the temple during the days of Passover. We know the impact that an increased police presence can have on a community, on an occupied and oppressed people. Word of Jesus’s teaching had spread widely. As Jesus arrives in the city he is greeted with excitement, with hope, hope for liberation for all people. Thomas Bohache, writing on the book of Matthew in The Queer Bible Commentary writes,
“…the Palm Sunday story empowers us to action - collective action, like the crowds who, in partnership with Jesus, stormed the city of Jerusalem to 'act up. Like the crowds on Palm Sunday, we must not be silenced. Like Jesus, we must accept our prophetic, …role to criticize, change and replace systems and structures … that perpetuate all kinds of oppression, … We must be in solidarity with all who struggle for equality - women, people of colour, the poor, the aged, the young, the differently abled…”
Like protests in U.S. streets today, Black Lives Matter, Women’s March, March for our Lives, Jesus and his community stood in the face of power and privilege and demonstrated another way. We are reminded of the words of civil rights organizer Ella Baker in a speech Baker gave in 1964 in which she said: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest!”