Parades of Power
On this Palm Sunday weekend Christians commemorate the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus proceeded down the Mount of Olives, through the storied Eastern Gate into Jerusalem, and enthusiastic crowds shouted as he passed: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
He was not atop a parade float or at the head of a conquering army. He came as a servant, “humble, riding on a donkey.” Jesus arrived challenging the status quo of his society, but did so as a man of peace. He was willing to die in sacrificial love for that society, but not willing to kill for it.
On the other side of Jerusalem that same morning there was another parade. Arriving from the west, as would have been his custom during festivals permeated with excitement, came Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor over Jerusalem.
On a little burro he was not; he arrived on a dazzling war horse, draped not with a rabbi’s prayer shawl, but with the royal colors of Caesar. He led, not a ragtag collection of outcasts, fisherman, and poor but heartened peasants. No, he commanded the legendary Roman legions. So, on one side of town it was humility, soft sandals on pavement, and the songs of hope. And on the other side, it was thundering hooves, the clatter of hardened steel, and arrogance.
Little has changed in the two millennia since those dueling columns paraded into the City of God on that Sunday morning. Always there is – and always there will be – this contrast. The way of the world is to dominate by means of strutting, incorrigible power. Employ merciless, cut-throat tactics to win. Use coercion, violence when necessary, to “take over” for the sake of achieving some glorious end.
Fueled by insatiable ego, conquest, and greed, this is how a majority of governments, economies, religious, and corporate organizations operate. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” that rabbi on Palm Sunday’s donkey said, citing the obvious. “But it’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. I came to serve, not be served.”
Society at large will never adopt this way of humble service, but society requires a witness to this way. What is required is the rejection of coercive power and manipulation. What is required is the taking of sides, the side of the powerless. What is required is the refusal to prop up systems of abuse. What is required is a choice: To join the parade of power, or the narrow, humble way of sacrifice.
Jacques Ellul said it best: “Power tends to only grow stronger! Thus, it must encounter those who neither wish to conquer nor use power for themselves. This requires a transformed humanity – conversion – that enables us to live with others and serve others without attempting to control, harm, or manipulate them. Jesus chose this life of non-power, and it is the very definition of Christian love.” Amen.
Photo by Milivoj Kuhar