In Jesus’ day, palms were carried in joyful, triumphant processions by Jews and Romans alike. Roman soldiers, returning from a successful conquest, would wave palms as they returned home to their welcome. Jews used palm adornments for their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the Festival of Tabernacles. And palm decorations were carved in stone within the Temple. Palms symbolized an oasis in the desert, victory in public games and in conquests, and a sign of blessing and homage.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem replicates how the Roman Emperor and his emissaries would enter the city: on a roadway strewn with palms, and with the crowds waving palms, shouting their praise. The crowds welcoming Jesus are shouting, “Hosanna,” which, in Hebrew, means “savior.” “Savior” is the very title already claimed by the Roman Emperor. The Roman Emperor’s titles included the “Savior of the World,” and “Son of God,” and “Lord of Lords.”[i] That’s the Roman Emperor. Unlike the Emperor and his party, whose processional entry would be on magnificent Persian stallions, Jesus is on a donkey.
Jesus’ entering Jerusalem is doing an old thing in a new way. There’s no way he can rival the power of the Roman Empire. And he doesn’t try to. He confronts violent, violating power with the principled power of nonviolent love.
You’ve been given a palm frond. Carry it home. Let it be to you a rallying sign for you to confront some power structure gone afoul, and which must be redressed. What is stirring in your soul – or what should bestirring in your soul – where some power structure must be redressed?
Is it to do:
- with stewardship of the environment, with global warming?
- with access to good food and clean water?
- with access to education, to the arts, to technology?
- with people fleeing from their homelands, desperately seeking a new home and a new hope?
- with imprisonment: for whom it is, and how it is that people are sentenced and incarcerated?
- with access to health care and medication?
- with bigotry, discrimination, neglect, or oppression because of people’s gender, age, race, nationality, language, religion, abilities, or appearance?
- with poverty and indebtedness: why people are poor and why people stay poor?
- with some other need that has seized your soul’s attention?
Carry your palm frond home, and let it be a rallying sign for you to confront some unjust power with Jesus’ nonviolent power. Jesus prays to the Father: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”[ii]Be an answer to Jesus’ prayer.
[i]John Dominic Crossan in God and Empire, p. 28.
[ii]Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4.
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