The Donkey or the Horse?
He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem….As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road….the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully….saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"
April 8, 2022, Words By: Fred Laceda, Image By: Annie Wald
It’s hard to be in a celebratory mood this Palm Sunday. Ukraine, Ethiopia, Yemen: it feels like the whole world is at war. And yet, the church calendar says it’s our time to remember Jesus being hailed as king. It’s like watching a split screen. In our lectionary text we hear of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On our TV screens we watch Russian soldiers marching to war in Ukraine.
This international tension would not have been foreign to Jesus and his contemporaries. In fact, the occasion that brought Jesus to Jerusalem — the Passover — was a highly charged annual event. It brought Jewish society together: the power brokers, the revolutionaries and the pious religious folk, to celebrate their liberation from imperial power.
The Passover naturally incited nationalistic nostalgia that, in more than a few occasions, spilled over into violent uprisings. In order to dissuade that type of behavior, Rome would send Pilate, along with a procession of soldiers, to Jerusalem to function as crowd control.
The juxtaposition of Pilate’s procession and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was not an accident. They represent opposite ways of human formation. One grows out of a worldview of scarcity and fear. It holds onto power tightly and eventually leads to violence. The other grows out of a worldview of abundance and freedom. It holds power loosely and invites us into a path of peace.
Let’s unpack this for a moment.
Pilate’s military parade is symbolic of the dominant view — to be powerful is to use force and violence. For much of human history, military triumph has been equated with power. There’s a reason we have so many monuments of horse-riding conquistadors.That’s why it’s important to understand that the war in Ukraine is not just a momentary disruption in our regular human programming. War has been a way of life for humanity throughout history. It’s what we know.
Jesus knew that about us as well. Which is why his manner of entry into Jerusalem was so telling. He instructed two of his disciples to go ahead to find a colt for him to ride on. This detail is important. There’s a general aversion to horses in the Bible because they were used as a war animal. It’s what Pilate would have used to enter the city. By choosing a donkey’s colt, Jesus is dismissing the common vehicle of war.
But his action was more than symbolic. He was tapping deep within the reservoir of the Jewish tradition to find a buried vision of a different kind of kingdom foretold in the book of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
Michel Foucualt calls this kind of act the “insurrection of subjugated knowledges.” Subjugated knowledges are those deemed as invalid, naive, disqualified and insufficient. It’s this vision from Zechariah, laying dormant for five hundred years, that Jesus unearthed and brought to Jerusalem. It was a vision that may have looked naive to a superpower like Rome. But it turned out to be the vision that used the cross to expose the weakness of violence. It was a vision that centered on mercy, love and forgiveness.
But what does Zechariah’s vision of peace, and enacted by Jesus, look like in our time?
In our country (Philippines), violence is king. But recently, a peaceful grassroots movement has been sweeping the country. And it comes from the most unlikely of places — politics. A presidential candidate is running with a platform that reads, “it’s more radical to love.” The counter-intuitive vision of love and peace is resonating with a lot of people. And they are eschewing the ways of violence and vengeance that lead to the non-stop cycle of war.
When people witness profound mercy, it can transform them…and sometimes even politics can disarmed of its rivalry. It’s unclear where this momentum of mercy will lead to in the current political climate. But it is a reminder that Jesus’ vision of the power of peacemaking can still come alive in our context today…but we may have to look for it in the most unlikely of places.
Dwelling Among Us
This week the crowd shouts “Hosanna, Hosanna,” next week, “Crucify him, Crucify him.” Shouts of praise turn to shouts of hate. Is this a victory march or a funeral procession?”