A subversive Triumphalism

 

A subversive Triumphalism

Neffsville Mennonite Church

March 20, 2016

By Nelson Okanya

Texts: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29: Luke 19:28-40

 

Today is Palm Sunday. I have chosen to use the lectionary texts for today which are; (Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29: Luke 19:28-40). Psalm 118 is a Temple psalm used at the Passover festival.  The passover celebrations recalled God’s salvation from the Egyptian bondage. I believe that worshippers did not only look back to God’s acts of deliverance in the past but also reflected on their current condition as they worshipped as all worshippers ought to do. Celebrations and jubilation comes through the call and response (118:2-4);

Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’”

Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’

Let those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.


God who saved their ancestors in the past was the same one they worshipped
whose love forever endures and as such could act again. They were a hope filled people in their worship. As they approached the temple they called out, “Open.. the gates of righteousness…” and “The righteous shall enter through it.” The festival procession proceeded up to the altar, to adorn it with signs of victory (verse 27). The physical movement began outside the Temple and progressed inside and all the way to the altar. The people expressed their faith that LORD had saved them in the past and is to be trusted in the present and in the future to grant success (verse 25).

In our Gospel text we meet Jesus enacting the passover story. What kind of king is he? To reflect on this question, lets look briefly at (Lk 19:11-27). In this passage, Jesus tells a parable about a king. This king gave went on a journey and gave money to his servants telling them to invest or do something with the money while he was away. Upon returning, the king found that the first two servants had done some good investing and had yielded some returns. But the third servant was worried that he might make a bad business investment (perhaps he was spoofed by stock market collapse!). The king did not take kindly his response and lost he even the original sum. The moral of the story as I have had many preach on this parable is that we should put to proper use our God given talents. While that in itself is a noble thing, I wonder whether it was the point Jesus was making in the parable given his following action upon telling the parable. I suspect that his statement about the king is telling. The king said in closing, “But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” (Lk 19:27).

 

The king in the parable orders the killing of his opponents before his very eyes! His actions confirms the third servant’s assessment that this king had the reputation for being a hard and ruthless man.

The text proceeds, “After he had said this . . . he went to Jerusalem.” In other words, this image of a powerful, and ruthless king, who is willing to exterminate his enemies is still fresh on his disciple’s minds as Jesus gets onto a colt and heads for Jerusalem. So when we hear the disciples saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” what kind of a king do you suppose they had in mind? Would it not be logical to assume they were still thinking of the powerful figure in the parable who was willing to get tough on all those who resisted his rule and reign?

Beginning with Luke 9:51, Jesus set his eyes on Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was the day this became a reality. The disciples rejoiced and praised God for all the mighty works they had seen, saying, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!.” Did these disciples understand what kind of king Jesus was?

This is among the stories that that all four Gospels albeit with variations records. As stated earlier, the Passover was a festival that celebrated God’s liberating act that freed salves from the Egyptian under Pharaoh’s rule. It makes sense then that for a people under an imperial rule (this time Rome), such a time of looking back created nostalgia and had all the potential for a rebellion against the occupying power. We are all familiar with independent celebrations, July 4th for us here in the U.S. The fireworks and the military and national symbols are on display.

This was a volatile time in Jerusalem. Some historians points out that there was another procession into Jerusalem at this time. This was Pilate’s procession with a display of the imposing costume, surrounded by troops communicating powerful message of who was in charge. The procession was designed to convey power and glory and to taut the peace or Rome which was enforced by military power, oppressive taxation and many other aspects of imperialism.

In these two entrances we have two very different appropriations of peace. Jesus’ choice of a donkey’s colt the animal of the peasants and women in that culture subverts the imperial triumph escorted by Rome’s elite troops and a display of state power as you can see in this picture.  Jesus on the other hand enacted a new exodus proclaiming his people’s liberation story from the bondage of sin and death. Jesus appears to be aware of what awaited him in Jerusalem and marched head on towards it. The hour had come for him to live into his mission and fully embody his message.  As God’s agent of healing and restoration, he was confronted with forces of destruction and death a reminder of Pharaoh’s army in the exodus story that sought to re-enslave the Israelites.  But behold God’s new exodus was at hand and nothing could stop it not even death itself. Anabaptists and Mennonites know this full well!

 

Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was an acted parable, correcting the misguided expectations of the of the crowd of dicsiples and to show the city the true way of peace.   The disciples celebrated this occasion by spreading their cloaks along the road for him.  They sang the great psalm of praise that pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem: a song of liberation that lifts up God’s mighty deeds of rescuing the oppressed and the enslaved.  In Jesus, God’s heavenly liberation was coming to bear on earth as it was in heaven. This great act of liberation met fierce opposition from the religious authorities who asked Jesus to stop his disciples perhaps fearing attack from Caesar’s political power structure. Jesus would have none of it in fact he said that if the disciples were to be silent, God would raise the stones to cheer and celebrate that triumphal moment in its subversive nature.
Are we ready to follow this kind of king who subverts power and ushers in God’s way of peace? How might we participate and enact his message of peace? Are we ready to follow his way or are we going the way of the empire? I pray that we continue to be witnesses of our Lord who passionately lived out his mission even when that meant facing the ultimate punishment the empire and religious leaders sought to unleash on him to stop and silence him a goal they achieved for a moment……

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