Sunday, March 28, 2010

Misundertaking Palm Sunday: Subverting Subversion


Is it inconceivable... 
..or inevitable....that we have hugely "misundertaken" Palm Sunday?

Does it mean what we think it means/memes??

Imagine Jesus appeared at your church Sunday; it was self-authenticating that it really was Jesus.
Among the options as to how you might respond..

does it even cross your mind to wave the American flag at him; and beg him to run for president??


But that is, in a sense, what the Palm Sunday branch-waves were doing.


1)Great article by Tim Geddert on how we misinterpret Palm Sunday:

Parade Or Protest MarchWhat are we celebrating on Palm Sunday?By Tim Geddert
Palm Sunday is a day of pomp and pageantry. Many church sanctuaries are decorated with palm fronds. I’ve even been in a church that literally sent a donkey down the aisle with a Jesus-figure on it. We cheer with the crowds—shout our hosannas—praising God exuberantly as Jesus the king enters the royal city.
But if Matthew, the gospel writer, attended one of our Palm Sunday services, I fear he would respond in dismay, “Don’t you get it?” We call Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem “The Triumphal Entry,” and just like the Jerusalem crowds, we fail to notice that Jesus is holding back tears.
Jesus did not intend for this to be a victory march into
- continued here

2)Which  reminded me of the classic "Lamb of God" video by Ray VanDer Laan

Notes by RVL:
For the Jewish people, Passover was more than a religious observance. It was the time of year when they celebrated liberation from Egyptian bondage.
During Jesus' time, they also used this opportunity to express their longing for political freedom from Rome. Jews who claimed to be "messiahs" had so often caused riots during Passover that the Romans brought extra troops into Jerusalem during the Passover season. The Roman soldiers did not hesitate to shed blood to keep the peace.
Jesus on his way to Jerusalem
On the Sunday before Passover, Jesus came out of the wilderness on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives (just as the prophecy said the Messiah would come).
People spread cloaks and branches on the road before him. Then the disciples "began, joyfully, to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen" (Luke 19:37). The crowd began shouting, "Hosanna," a slogan of the ultra-nationalistic Zealots, which meant, "Please save us! Give us freedom! We're sick of these Romans!"
The Palm Branches
The people also waved palm branches, a symbol that had once been placed on Jewish coins when the Jewish nation was free. Thus the palm branches were not a symbol of peace and love, as Christians usually assume; they were a symbol of Jewish nationalism, an expression of the people's desire for political freedom.
Jesus as the Passover Lamb
Yet Jesus came to the people as the Lamb of God. Jesus, the sinless Messiah who would die on humankind's behalf, appeared on the very day that people chose their spotless Passover lambs!
It's almost as if God said to the world, "Here's my Lamb. Will you chose him?" But instead of turning to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the crowds misunderstood his proclamation that he was the Messiah. They wanted him to be their political-military deliverer.
Jesus Wept
In response, Jesus wept. The tears Jesus shed as the people cried out their political "Hosannas" were tears of grief for the hearts of his people.
Jesus foresaw the terrible devastation of Jerusalem that would result because the people did not recognize him as God's Messiah. The people were looking for a messiah who offered political deliverance and a political kingdom.
However they would have nothing to do with the Messiah who offered forgiveness and deliverance from sin. In his grief over their distorted beliefs, Jesus wept out loud.  link

Related Van DerLann posts:



What Palm Sunday Means: God's Street Theatre Comes to Jerusalem

N.T. Wright

Hosanna” has the sense of immediacy, and so it would be correct to this word as  “Please save us, and do it now!”
When Jesus rode in his upside-down Kingdom-way on a donkey (not a stallion) into Jerusalem, there was desperation in the air. These Jewish citizens of Jerusalem were under the heavy yoke of the Roman Empire. They had heard about Jesus. The  rumor was that he claimed to be a king. Even the Messiah. So when word got out that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem  on a donkey, he was greeted as a king would be greeted. 
As shouts of “Blessed is the King of Israel!” are heard, clearly the people see in Jesus the answer to their nationalistic, messianic hopes. Earlier a crowd had wanted to make Jesus king (6:15), and now this crowd is recognizing him as king in the city of the great King. Here is the great dream of a Davidic ruler who would come and liberate Israel, establishing peace and subduing the Gentiles
The way Jesus entered Jerusalem was a deliberate, prophetic “Zechariah 9:9 act” on his part.  Zech. 9:9 reads: Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt. Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a kingly way, and the people respond in a kingly fashion. The imagery is regal and even messianic, though it is a humble Messiah who makes the ride. As the people spread their garments (NIV: their cloaks) on the road, a "red carpet" of sorts is produced. 
He was there to rescue them. The people were about to get “hosanna-ed,” “rescued.” But it wasn’t going to look like they thought it should. Jesus is a different kind of King. He’s going to “Hosanna” the world by dying on a cross. N.T. Wright writes: “The meaning Jesus attaches to this “triumphal entry” is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today.”
People turn to God when there’s something they want very badly. That’s like deciding to use a telephone when you desperately need an ambulance to come and help you. Church attendance – generally – was up, briefly, after “9-1-1.” Suddenly everyone wanted to ask the big, hard questions.
Here, in our Palm Sunday story taking place just outside Jerusalem, suddenly everyone wants Jesus to ride into the city and be the kind of king they want him to be. “Help!” “Save the life of my sick child!” “Pay my bills!” “Give us peace, now!”
Jesus does intend to respond to the people’s cries. He has come to seek and save the lost. He has come for people who need help, people who are sick and need a doctor. Yet he’s not coming to be all things to all people. He’s not riding into Jerusalem to conform to the expectations of the crowds of people. He isgoing to answer in his own way.
The people wanted a prophet. This prophet, Jesus, is going to tell the people that they are under coming judgment. They wanted a Messiah. This one is going to be enthroned on a pagan cross. The crowds wanted to be rescued from evil and oppression. This person Jesus is going to do that, but in a far, far deeper way than they were thinking.
Jesus is going beneath surface evil and in to the depths of the human heart. N.T. Wright says: “Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to their desires at the deepest level, he will have to say ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to the desires they are conscious of, and expressed.” (NTW, Matt, 68)
Once you really cry out “Hosanna,” Jesus is going to “hosanna” you more thoroughly than you imagine, maybe more deeply than you wanted. The Hosanna-ing Jesus brings is not just a band-aide. This story of Jesus entering Jerusalem  is “an object lesson in the mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.” (NTW, Matt, 69)
The bad news is that the crowds are going to be disappointed. The good news is that their disappointment is on a surface, shallow level. “Deep down, Jesus’ arrival at the great city is indeed the moment when salvation is dawning… The “Hosannas” were justified… they were correct…. but not for the reasons they supposed. To learn this lesson is to take a large step towards wisdom and humility, and towards genuine Christian faith.” (NTW, Matt, 69)  link

4)Dan Clarenden:
 Subverting Our Nation....:]Jesus's triumphal entry into the clogged streets of Jerusalem on Good Friday was thus a highly symbolic and provocative act, an enacted parable, or street theater that dramatized his subversive mission. He didn't ride a donkey because he was too tired to walk or because he wanted a good view of the crowds. The Oxford scholar George Caird once characterized Jesus's triumphal entry as more of a "planned political demonstration" than the religious celebration that we sentimentalize today.
           Given that the Roman state always made a show of force during the Jewish Passover when pilgrims thronged to Jerusalem to celebrate their political liberation from Egypt centuries earlier, Borg and Crossan imagine not one but two political processions entering Jerusalem that Friday morning in the spring of AD 30. In a blatant parody of imperial politics, king Jesus descended the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem from the east in fulfillment of Zechariah's ancient prophecy: "Look, your king is coming to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5 = Zechariah 9:9). From the west, the Roman governor Pilate entered Jerusalem with all the pomp of state power. Pilate's brigades showcased Rome's military might, power and glory. Jesus's triumphal entry, by stark contrast, was an anti-imperial and anti-triumphal "counter-procession" of peasants that proclaimed an alternate and subversive social vision called "the kingdom of God."
           People today argue about who's "subverting our nation." A friend in Florida forwarded me an email that blamed Muslims in America for our problems. Others attack evangelicals as "Christian fascists." For a long time now others have taken aim at "secular humanists" and liberal Democrats. On his nationally televised program Jerry Falwell blamed the wickedness of pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way for the 9-11 disaster, which he construed as God's judgment. Pat Robertson, a guest on the show, nodded in agreement, “well, I totally concur.” The greed of corporate executives and the sleaze of Hollywood movies also make easy targets. But I never recall anyone blaming Jesus, that Jesus is the one who's "subverting our nation." But that was the allegation that sent Jesus to Golgotha.

Marc Chagall, "Yellow Crucifixion" (1943).
           Twenty years after Jesus died, charges of subversion dogged his first followers. In Philippi, a mob dragged Paul and Silas before the city magistrates, then had them stripped, beaten, severely flogged, and imprisoned: "These men are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice" (Acts 16:20–21). In Thessalonica, "some bad characters from the marketplace" dragged Jason and some fellow believers before the city officials, shouting "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here. . . They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:7)

   5)what do the palms say?


Excerpts below from a good Andreana Reale article in which she sheds light on Palm Sunday and the Temple Tantrum:
,, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem actually echoes a custom that would have been familiar to people living in the Greco-Roman world, when the gospels were written.
Simon Maccabeus was a Jewish general who was part of the Maccabean Revolt that occurred two centuries before Christ, which liberated the Jewish people from Greek rule. Maccabeus entered Jerusalem with praise and palm leaves—making a beeline to the Temple to have it ritually cleansed from all the idol worship that was taking place. With the Jewish people now bearing the brunt of yet another foreign ruler (this time the Romans), Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem—complete with praise and palm leaves—was a strong claim that He was the leader who would liberate the people.
Except that in this case, Jesus isn’t riding a military horse, but a humble donkey. How triumphant is Jesus’ “triumphant entry”—on a donkey He doesn’t own, surrounded by peasants from the countryside, approaching a bunch of Jews who want to kill Him?
And so He enters the Temple. In the Greco-Roman world, the classic “triumphant entry” was usually followed by some sort of ritual—making a sacrifice at the Temple, for example, as was the legendary case of Alexander the Great. Jesus’ “ritual” was to attempt to drive out those making a profit in the Temple.
The chaotic commerce taking place—entrepreneurs selling birds and animals as well as wine, oil and salt for use in Temple sacrifices—epitomized much more than general disrespect. It also symbolised a whole system that was founded on oppression and injustice.
In Matthew, Mark and John, for example, Jesus chose specifically to overturn the tables of the pigeon sellers, since these were the staple commodities that marginalised people like women and lepers used to be made ritually clean by the system. Perhaps it was this system that Jesus was referring to when He accused the people of making the Temple “a den of robbers” (Mt 21.13; Mk 11.17; Lk 19.46).
Andreana Reale


  1. I am glad to see your addressing Palm Sunday. I wonder how many Evangelicals will let this week pass without consciousness of the Passion of our Lord.

    "A Triumph" was very special parade in Rome. Only the most successful military leaders earned a triumph. Romans prized Honor. "To Triumph" was the dream of a lifetime.

    A Triumph followed a specific protocol. Ancient documentation is not available. But generally it went: 1) Senators, 2) Trumpets, 3) the spoils of the war, 4) the defeated king, 5) the ceremonial servants of the man honored, 6) the man himself riding on a chariot pulled by four white horses. 7) The man's army (without their weapons).

    As the parade progresses, a slave accompanies the honored man. His job is to whisper in his ear, "Remember that you are mortal." Presumably this is so the Triumph would swell the honored man's head. But heads did of course swell. That is the point of having a Triumph after all.

    On Palm Sunday the appropriate point of reflection is this: 1) What is Jesus' Triumph celebrating? and 2) How dare Jesus to present himself with a Triumph! Is he trying to use the Triumph to say something about himself? Or, is he using himself to say something about a Triumph?

    My vote is that Jesus' Triumph undermines the meaning on Triumph. He is mocking the pretension of the thing. At the same time is a marker of victory over something. But what?

  2. Kevin:

    yes! Palm Sunday is overlooked...and subversive! Triumphs over triumph. Is your last question rhetorical, What are your thoughts on what it marked?


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!