Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. On that day we honored what has become known as Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem. I put that in quotes because as Jesus was entering the city from the east, from the west was coming Governor Pontius Pilate with a hoard of soldiers, war horses, chariots and other armaments to display the full force and power of the Roman Empire. Why was Pilate coming into the city? Because it was Passover, when tends of thousands of Jews would be filling the small city. And when an occupied people come together like that in such tight quarters, there is a higher than normal potential for violence or revolt. The governor was coming to personally oversee the festivities.
I preached on this very thing, how Jesus’ “triumphal” entry was not so “triumphal” compared to Pilate’s processional. Jesus was on a young donkey. People were putting down clothes and palm branches to cover the earth where his donkey would walk. It was, for all intents and purposes, almost poking fun at Pilate’s show of force. According to Marcus Borg and John Crossan in The Last Week, Jesus’ entry was as much a political statement as it was a moral one.
As the week moves forward, according to Mark’s gospel, today would be the day Jesus entered the temple and cleared it out, shouting the words, “You have turned [God’s house] into a den of robbers,” or “a hideout for crooks” in the Common English Bible (Mark 11.17). So much has been written about this episode. But here’s what I have come to understand, wonderfully explained in Borg’s and Crossan’s book: the people had come to rely on their religious practices to save them, while they continued to steal and rob poor people and each other. The temple had become their hideout where they could “go to confession,” be absolved, and then go back to business. It was a farce!
During this holy of weeks for the Church, I can’t help but consider the ways I unintentionally as well as by choice “steal” from people. Do I know where my clothes were made? Do I know how much those workers got paid? Are they are able to provide adequately for their families? Where does my family’s food come from? Are the people who plant, care for, and harvest the basic elements of my food get paid a fair wage for the back-breaking work I am unwilling to do myself? Or, have the people been replaced by million dollar machines and genetically modified seeds that rob my family of real nutrients?
Over the years I have wondered whether the Holy week I grew up with about feeling good about the resurrection, is really about calling into question the execution of a man who sought to free people from fear and ignorance so they might actually live in real mutual community. I can’t help but wonder what I am doing to live into this Way of Jesus.