Imagine the scene on that first Palm Sunday: The Jesus procession arriving in Jerusalem–a chaotic mix of people singing and dancing, waving palms and spreading cloaks on the ground.
Historical records tell us that at the same time, across the city, Pilate is arriving in a military procession in perfect formation with all the pomp and ceremony necessary to make an impression. every Jewish festival, the Roman army would have had an extra presence. Imagine the Roman army with Pilate arriving in Jerusalem just in case there is trouble.
Jesus arrives with a small informal band of followers. Pilate and his generals arrive on war horses. Jesus arrives on a donkey. Pilate arrives with an army marching in perfect time. Jesus arrives with peasants in disorder. Pilate proclaims the power of Rome to control by military might. Jesus proclaims God’s reign of love.
No one would wave at Pilate. They would just stay out of the way. Jesus’s followers gather around and make a party out of the parade.
Pilate’s procession displays political and military power and Roman imperial theology which goes like this:
“the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God. Augustus, was the son of the god Apollo. Inscriptions refer to him as “son of God,” “lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.” After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods. His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor during the time of Jesus’s public activity.” (Adapted)
You might recognize the story line in Jesus life: Jesus son of God, lord, savior, peace on earth. You might remember hearing that Jesus ascended into heaven. When Mark was written 60 years after Jesus’ death, the author would know the story of the Roman gods. In the Jewish tradition there could only be one God. If you believed that Jesus was God then the Caesar, the Roman emperor could not be God. The story of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is designed so that we will ask the question: Which parade would you rather participate in?
Do you want to participate in the parade that rules the world by force, by military might, by wealth, by power? Do you want to participate in the parade that fills the world with love, compassion, healing and restoration of relationships?
That is the question we are confronted with 2000 years later. Jerusalem is a central location through much of our scripture. In many places in scripture it is central to the worship life of the Jewish people and as a city dedicated to the glory of God. But Jerusalem is also the center of the “domination system” Borg and Crossan identify three characteristics of the “domination system:”
- Political oppression
- Economic exploitation
- Religious legitimation – meaning that the system is justified using religious language 
How many times do we look around the world and say, “that’s just how it is?” How often do we look around and feel ineffectual in our ability to change the systems that we know exist? That’s part of what the domination system does. It makes the world, as it is, seem like the norm. It seems too big for us to take on. I wonder how many of Jesus’ followers watched Pilate arrive in Jerusalem with his army and thought there was nothing they can do about this oppressive presence in their city. The Jesus procession reminded people that it didn’t have to be that way and called into question the strength of Pilate and the army that backed him.
Throughout our own scripture we see the struggle between good and evil. Is God’s love stronger than evil? It is a question that has been asked throughout time. It is a question that is seen in the competing images of Palm Sunday. It is a question that we continue to ask in the fiction of books, movies and TV of our own culture. Palm Sunday encourages us to ask ourselves some important questions:
Who is more powerful: God or Culture?
Who would you rather follow? God or Culture?
Which parade do you want to participate in? The Jesus parade or the Pilate parade?
As we move towards Good Friday we need to ask ourselves if we will stand at the foot of the cross and bear witness to the pain and suffering in the world. We need to ask ourselves if we are willing and able to walk the path that Jesus walked on Palm Sunday bringing love, compassion and healing to the world around us in spite of threat and intimidation. Jesus path is one of both personal and communal risk in the face of what seems overwhelming odds.
Jesus stood against the Caesar who proclaimed to be God and as people of faith we choose to follow in Jesus’ path proclaiming hope for the world.
. Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
. Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic (2009-03-17). The Last Week (p. 7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.