Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, greeted by crowds waving palm fronds and acclaim him the descendent of David, come to reclaim his throne.
I write while sitting in an airplane, 35,000 feet above the ground, hurtling through the air at hundreds of kilometres an hour. What relevance can this story of an ancient prophet on a donkey have for the world I live in? He inhabited a world of donkeys, parchment and peasants. I inhabit a world of airplanes, laptops and businesspeople.
It turns out there is not so great a distance between us as I imagine. His world, like mine, is one where violence, oppression and exploitation are routine events. Roman taxes were forcing peasant farmers to take loans they couldn’t repay, with the wealthy elites using this as an excuse to take their land, leaving the farmers in dire poverty. In my world multinational corporations exploit the resources of the world’s poor, and instead of fair compensation pay poverty level wages and illegally spirit hundreds of billions of tax dollars out of those countries via illegal tax evasion.
His world was one where the wealthy indulged themselves in fine clothes, spectacular building programs and all sorts of comforts, while beggars starved outside their gates. My world is one where there has never been more wealth, nor more poor.
His world was one where under the rhetoric of securing peace a great and violent Empire occupied his country. Soldiers routinely extorted money from residents, and rebellion was ruthlessly crushed. My world is one where under the rhetoric of securing peace a great and violent Empire has effectively occupies Afghanistan and has wreaked havoc through its invasion of Iraq, which sees soldiers abusing prisoners, and where rebellion is ruthlessly crushed.
As he rode into Jerusalem the crowds erupted with hope. “Hosanna to the Son of David” they cried. I wonder what they imagined? David was a violent man who used force to conquer his enemies, who pillaged villages and slaughtered the inhabitants to eliminate any witness to his crimes, who on his deathbed advised his son to inaugurate his reign with the murder of his rivals. Did they imagine this Son of David would follow in his father’s footsteps? That he would meet Roman violence with a greater violence?
If so they must have been sorely disappointed, for the Son of David met violence with nothing more and nothing less than truth, love and forgiveness. His answer to Roman violence was to break the cycle of violence by refusing to strike back. His answer to the scheming of the powerful was to break the cycle of plot and counterplot by offering only forgiveness.
He brokered a new way, a path followed by Ghandi, Martin Luther King and others. In the words of the apostle Paul, he didn’t repay evil with evil, but overcame evil with good.
To many it seemed futile. Thirty years after Jesus entered Jerusalem those who preferred to meet violence with violence joined an armed insurrection. The result was one of history’s bloodiest wars and thousands of deaths.
This Palm Sunday, as I hurtle through the air at 35,000 feet, I realise that the story of Jesus is as relevant as ever. I dare not become anaesthetised to the evil in my world but want to follow him to the very centre of evil, to confront it not with violence, hatred and vengefulness, but with hope, love, peace and forgiveness.