A Season For Disrupting
Lent is truly the season of disruption. Jesus left the valleys and hills of the Galilee and approached Jerusalem, the City of God. Yes, it was the City of God but things were not right in this city.
On Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey. He comes, not to build, not to worship, not to admire—but to disrupt. The Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ is contains a disrupting message. If God is still speaking, are we listening?
Mark’s gospel points to the fact that Jesus came to Jerusalem to disrupt.
He did not slink around in secrecy. There was nothing “reasonable” in his actions. They were intentional. Jesus came to challenge the Roman oppressors and the Temple establishment that collaborated with the Romans.
The theme of the Gospel of Mark is the announcement of Jesus that it was the Kingdom of God that was beginning to supplant the Kingdom of Rome.
It was the Kingdom of Justice verses the Kingdom of Injustice.
In his time, Rome was the kingdom, or empire, that determined how the world functioned. It was a domination system where the powerful and elite would manipulate the systems of power to suite the lifestyles of the powerful at the cost of the poor.
In other words, a small group of elite had all the strings in hand and the rest had to play along and follow their rules. To obstruct those in power meant vicious retribution.
The result was a subjugated populace who lived on the edge of survival, bearing the greatest risks for production and offered the least opportunity for their own advancement.
In Biblical terms; it was a culture of Biblical injustice and as the other prophets who came before Jesus, he directed his ministry to challenge this.
The entry into Jerusalem was not something preordained to fulfill Old Testament prophecies as we so often hear. No, it was a proactive act of defiance by Jesus. A challenge.
Passover was a feast all Israelites dreamed of experiencing in Jerusalem at least once in their lives. At the Jewish Passover, Jerusalem would become crowded with Jews from everywhere. Some came from the rural areas of Judah but many also came from where they lived in the diaspora.
Celebrating their miraculous escape from Egypt centuries before, Passover awoke that yearning in the hearts of God’s people for the liberty they were not afforded in their own land.
The Roman overlords had had enough experience with the Jews at Passover so they made a point of displaying their military power at the onset of the Passover.
In this case, the Roman ruler of that area, Pilate, came down from the coastal city of Caesarea where he had enjoyed his winter stay. With him he brought extra troops and he entered Jerusalem in spectacular fashion.
The ordinary people were compelled to line the streets and greet him as a dignitary showing their respect by draping their cloaks and branches on the road before Pilate.
Pilate would enter on his war horse with all of its regalia and troops would line the streets as a show of power. The message was clear; Do not mess with the power of Rome!
Imagine now the message Jesus conveyed as he entered the city through another city gate riding not on a war horse, but on a humble donkey. Imagine the symbolism when people lay out their garments for Jesus and threw branches before him offering him a show of respect worthy of a great leader. There could be no mistake what this challenge was and to whom it was addressed.
This was the Kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of Rome. There was no going back for Jesus after this challenge.
The difference between the two entries was Jesus chose a humble donkey demonstrating that God’s Kingdom would not be a kingdom built upon violence. Who would ever associate a donkey a warrior?
With the Roman oppressors and the Temple officials who collaborated with them, in his sights, Holy Week begins.
Domination systems, where the powerful elite dominate and manipulate, lead to what the Bible calls, structures of injustice.
These systems evolve to benefit some while limiting the opportunities for others. In Jesus time the rich and connected in Jerusalem lived in luxury while the peasants in the rural areas barely survived. And yet, the percentage the peasants contributed per capita exceeded what the elite contributed. Rome demanded a ransom and the Temple and its elite became the channel through which the taxes were gathered and distributed. As the poor farmers failed financially, it was this elite class, including some of the Temple officials who gobbled up the land in direct violation of the Torah—the Law.
What would Jesus say to the domination systems of our world? How would Jesus judge the systems we help sustain? Do we care? Are we willing to question the status quo and test it to see whether it would pass the Jesus-test?
How would God’s Kingdom manifest itself in our society and in our communities. I just happened to page through the “Homes of the Hamptons” and saw an advertisement for vacation homes. There is one home advertised that you could rent for three months this summer. It would cost you $900,000.
Can a system survive where there are numerous candidates for renting a home for a summer for nearly a million dollars while there are others who have to choose between paying rent or paying for medication. Do we not see what is happening?
In the final years of the system of Apartheid everyone understood that it was a system that could not endure and yet, those who benefitted became more brutal and more desperate.
The tragic reality is that usually in such cases as the Roman oppression or colonial oppression, the church, the religious entities, side with the oppressor. The religious establishment is coopted legitimize the dominant system.
The kingdom of God says the fullness of Creation belongs to God, not just to you and me and certainly not to the 1%.
In this Holy Week, may we imagine Jesus Christ’s commitment to the world in which he lived and to the people with whom he stood in relation to. Let us listen for his call to us to choose between justice and injustice—fairness and compassion, action and inaction.
And may our perceptions in this week bring us back to the path of God’s love if we have departed from it. May God’s love touch those of us who feel abandoned. May we unite in the just cause of God’s call to be the salt of the earth by becoming more and more Christ-like. Amen.
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.