Palm Sunday and the Reign of God
Here it is, Palm Sunday
We bless palms, we wave them around, and then we hear the terrible story that is the center of the Christian faith. Jesus, the chosen one, the saving one, Jesus was tortured and killed.
How do we make sense of this?
Here is the simple answer: We don’t.
Palm Sunday cannot be gathered up in a tidy bundle. There is too much. It is too complicated. There are too many parts to this story.
We start out with the entrance into Jerusalem. As Marcus Borg reminds us, there were two entrances that day, Pilate entered through the big gates. His guards would have been clearing the streets and looking for assassins, he would have ridden in on a big horse, with a large retinue around him. Jesus entered through another gate, on a borrowed donkey. His retinue were the poor people, the faithful people who were looking for the return of the reign of God. The words they shouted were treasonous, and they signed his death warrant, but he did not stop them.
They went to a house, and a woman anointed him with oil. This is a clear sign of his amazing relationship with women, he stands up for her when others start complaining. After this, Judas goes out to the temple authorities. There are some very interesting commentaries about Judas, questioning the “devil” status that Judas has been given, in fact, they question whether Judas actually existed, or was added into the text later!
But then we get into the meat of the story. The disciples know that it is time for Passover, only they are in Jerusalem, not at home in Galilee. However, it is not so difficult, they just want to know what Jesus wants. He gives them explicit instructions about what to say, and they follow the directions, and it happens just as he says.
During the dinner, he starts teaching them that he will be betrayed, and he gives them more instructions about eating bread and drinking wine. They are all distressed that he thinks they will betray him – in fact they all run away, it is not just Judas that betrays him. Peter makes his famous pronouncement and Jesus tells him what he thinks of Peter’s bravado.
Then the action starts. They go out to the garden, and he tells them that he will pray, and that they should stay awake and pray with him. He goes off by himself, and they fall asleep. He comes back, wakes them up, scolds them, goes off to pray again, and they fall asleep again. Finally he says the fateful words: The hour has come. Several times before, he has said that his hour had not yet come, but now, it has come.
The authorities come to arrest him, and he asks them an interesting question: What’s wrong with you? I have been in the temple every day, why didn’t you arrest me then? Why indeed! They didn’t dare, because he was too popular. Better to arrest him at night, have a quick trial, accuse him of blasphemy and then hand him over to the Romans. At that point, the Roman judicial system rolled on. Jesus was a trouble-maker, his own people said so. If they looked more closely, they could see that he had committed treason by letting people proclaim him king. Treason was a capital offense. But in an occupied territory, it did not take more than a sneeze to get in trouble, and if the Romans got involved, you ended up on a cross. They killed thousands that way. It was horrendous. It was a reign of terror. There was good reason for all of the disciples to run off – they would have been next.
There is one other small line, about the young man. The young man was following, wearing nothing but a towel, but when they went to grab him, they got the towel, and he ran away naked. Who would know that? The author would – this is most likely John Mark, who was a young man when Jesus was killed, and as an old man sixty years later was writing down what happened.
The women, however, did not run off. They stood at a distance, but they remained. These were women of substance, they helped finance Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus clearly responded to women unlike any other religious leader they knew. So they stayed. And Mark named them, a high honor in such a male-oriented society.
So what do we do with all of this? How do we make sense of it?
I’m not sure we “do” anything with is, in the active sense of that word. What I think is that we are invited to join in the experience. What does it mean to hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, that it has started to break open? What does that mean to us?
That is what Jesus came to do, to open that door, to invite us to come through and into the kingdom of God, to proclaim the year of the Lord, to live in the reign of God, whether we “see” it with our eyes or not.
Again and again, he tried to make the disciples open their minds to this kind of radical idea, that the year of the Lord had, in fact, begun, and they needed to start living that way. And he offers that to us. The reign of God has started. Are we ready? What will we do?
I have a wonderful book that is titled, “If the Buddha Came To Dinner” that goes on to talk about how we need to pay attention to how we eat as a spiritual practice. I couldn’t agree more. The reign of God has started, what will you have for dinner? The reign of God has started, what will you… Do you see how this goes? If our answer changes, perhaps we need to pay attention.
The reign of God has started. What will we do?