31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11, Mark 12:28-34
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
It’s not political. I can’t tell you how many articles I have read about the student walk outs on March 14th where some school administrator has been quoted as saying, “It’s not political.”
What they really mean is that their students’ participation is not partisan. Their school system is not supporting views held by either Republicans or Democrats.
Unfortunately, the word “political” has become synonymous with “partisan” and with the word “divisive”. I can understand why school administrators would not want it to look like they allowed their students to endorse either political party, especially in our passionately divided political time; however they have the word completely wrong because what their students were doing a week ago Wednesday and yesterday with the nation wide March for Our Lives was absolutely political.
The word “political” comes from the Greek word “polis” city-state. While co-opted in our time to have a negative connotation, politics has to do with civic matters and citizenship. To be political means to shape our polis, our city-state, our government, our communal life.
While school administrators have been afraid to have their students’ actions labeled as “political”, that is exactly what they were. These students, these teenagers, were attempting to shape, to reform, our government and community life – just like Jesus was trying to do throughout his ministry and especially on Palm Sunday as he journeyed into Jerusalem.
Yes, the triumphant procession into Jerusalem, the Palm Sunday parade, was political. It was not about getting somewhere. It was about saying something. Jesus was making a statement, a political statement intended to shape that city, shape that community, shape the world.
If Jesus had wanted to simply go into the city to visit the Temple with the 3 million other pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for Passover, he could have walked. He had walked his entire life. For three years, he had been walking all over Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing. If this was just about getting to the Temple, Jesus could have walked.
This journey was about so much, much more. This was a journey rich in symbolism and meaning. A journey meant to remind the people of past kings; a journey set in contrast with their present rulers.
When the people saw Jesus riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey, they may have thought of Jesus’ ancestor, King Solomon. Solomon, too, rode on a donkey, a mule, to his anointing as God’s chosen one, the King of God’s people. (1 Kings 1:33) Solomon, too, was faithful to God, wise and fair as he cared for God’s people.
O maybe the sight of Jesus on that colt reminded the people of this passage from Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Lo, your king comes to you, Jerusalem. Triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.
When people saw Jesus riding on a colt, like kings of old, perhaps they also remembered the story of God choosing Jehu as king, and they, too, were moved to spread their cloaks on the ground for God’s chosen one. (2 Kings 9:13) And to cry out:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Mark 11:9-10, Psalm 118:26)
This verse from Psalm 118 was well-known, one associated with the Passover Seder. It would not have been all that unusual for it to have been on the tip of people’s tongues as well as in their minds and hearts as they traveled to the Temple to celebrate Passover.
And it would not have been so strange for the people to have called out for change, for a renewal of society, to have hoped for God’s anointed king to enter Jerusalem and establish true peace and justice. This hope, this thought, this dream – for a Messiah to save them, had shaped their community for hundreds of years. (NIB VIII, pg 659)
Year after year, as they gathered for the Passover meal, the Israelites wondered, would this be the year when God would change their government, when God would send a Savior to free them from the foreign powers who occupied their land and oppressed them? Was this the year when the peaceful kingdom of their ancestors King David and King Solomon would finally come to be? As they marched into Jerusalem, they shouted, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” And they hoped.
Not everyone understood the statement that God and Jesus were making with this symbolic ride into Jerusalem. Not everyone understood that here was God’s Messiah, God’s chosen one, but for those whose eyes were open, they understood what kind of king Jesus was. How different he was from the Romans who ruled them now. How Jesus came humbly, riding on a young donkey, unlike the Roman armies who loved to parade throughout Jerusalem with their chariots and warhorses, demonstrating their power and might. How Jesus came in peace, offering the choice to follow him, unlike the Romans and the religious powers who brandished fear and forced compliance.
Even how Jesus obtained the colt was in contrast with how the Roman Empire did things. The Romans just took what they wanted: money, people, possessions, so when the bystanders said to the disciples, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”, it is likely the bystanders expected the disciples to say, “Taking it for the Romans.” How different when the disciples said, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” (Mark 11:3) Jesus, who had the power of God Almighty, did not simply take because he could. He borrowed what he needed and returned it immediately. This is the kind of king Jesus is.
Every step of this journey to the cross was God’s plan from beginning to end. Every step of this journey was meant to make a statement, to make a political statement, a statement meant to shape society into God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and love.
On this Palm Sunday, I encourage you to follow Jesus’ example and be political, be very political.
Go out and shape our community, our society, our world as Jesus did, with love, with peace, with persistence, with humility, with justice.
Work to make love of God and love of our neighbor be the guiding principles in our communities, the rule of thumb for our governments. Make a statement by how you vote, what you buy, where you give your money.
Say and do what will create a society where all people are safe, where all people are nurtured, where all people have the opportunity to grow old and share their God-given gifts with the world.
Jesus made a statement with his journey into Jerusalem. He made a statement with his journey to the cross, and we are called to do the same, speaking up for love, speaking up for peace, speaking out for justice.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our God!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, now and forevermore!