Read Matthew 21:1-22.
I started writing this blog on January 3, 2010, as I prepared to for a trip to the Holy Land at St. George's College in Jerusalem. The course was called, "The Palestine of Jesus." We began at St. George's with some study on "the historical Jesus" and then we embarked on a pilgrimage, re-tracing Jesus' ministry and the last week of his life: to Bethlehem and then on to the Sea of Galilee and then to the Jordan and the Judean Desert and then the Mount of the Transfiguration and then on to Bethphage - where we have also arrived today, in our journey with Matthew.
This journey has recalled to me aspects of that journey four and a half years ago and given me a chance to re-share some photos along the way. The one shown above was taken is in the Church of Bethphage, run by the Franciscans. (I also learned to pronounce it differently: beth- fagee, "the house of the little fig" - which I like, but it's still hard to say it that way back home!)
If you don't already know John Dominick Crossan and Marcus Borg's book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem then I commend it to you. The book was published in 2006, and I think I'd heard or read an excerpt before January 2010, but being in that Franciscan Church and hearing the story of two parades into Jerusalem really resonated with me. Borg and Crossan see the Palm Sunday procession as a kind of protest. They write:
Two processions entered Jerusalem on that spring day in the year 30...one was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession...
Jesus and his band of followers have been on the move, and enter from the east, as Pontius Pilate enters from the west - a display of military force, with all the "trappings" of Roman imperialism. On the other side of the tracks, as it were, Jesus is not trying to outdo Pilate in pageantry but mock him, and reveal an alternative way to be in the world - an alternative understanding of power.
If this is right - and I find the argument compelling - then I wonder what it might mean liturgically when we celebrate Palm Sunday. I am tired of the old argument that I heard every year from a few old-timers about how Palm Sunday ought to be a pageant and save the Passion Narrative for Good Friday. Maybe the larger problem is that we misunderstand the shouts of "hosanna" in the first place. Maybe the crowd that shouts "hosanna" and then "crucify him" isn't one fickle crowd at all, but two very different visions. Jerusalem, Jerusalem - that kills the prophets. Protesters usually are met with violence - think Bull Conner's fire hoses or the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels.
What if Jesus and his group of followers from the north know exactly what they are doing as they move in a carefully scripted act of protest from the "house of the little fig" to the Temple - where the religious authorities have been colluding with the political authorities in ways that keep the empire intact but at a cost for the have-nots? And what if the clash that is coming is all of a piece? What if there is a ready-made "mob" at the other end of town that doesn't like being mocked, and a conflict between these two "parades" is imminent?
And if this is all even remotely on track, then how might it change the way we enter Holy Week next time around?