Riding an ass = a destabilizing act

Mary Magdala Community

Palm Sunday,  March 28, 2021

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D.  jimryan6885@gmail.com

This year my philosopher pal is Martha Nussbaum who teaches Political Philosophy and Law & Ethics at the University of Chicago.  She writes that a stable society is one that is based in justice.   And for society to remain stable its citizens must love justice.  By love she means a commitment to values and ideals which occupies the minds and hearts of those same citizens.

Our society, it seems to me, has had to endure the recent past as an unstable time, and I’m not talking about covid.  For the first time in our history we had a president whose goal, supposedly on the way to greatness, was to tear down and deconstruct the very structures of this society.  A president using the slogan of law and order and telling his followers to attack police and tear down the order of the functioning government.

We know what instability looks like.  It even has a date – January 6, 2021.  Now, we understand that violently destabilizing society is an actual goal of certain parts of  our population.

Today we celebrate in our Palm Sunday liturgy what is called, not without a certain irony, the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  He hoists himself on an ass and rides into the Holy City.  This, in itself, is no big thing.  It’s what the people did on seeing him that turns this ride into a triumph.  It’s the laying down of cloaks and leafy branches on the road and the proclaiming Jesus as the Blessed One who comes in the name of God on High that makes this entry a glorious triumph.

For years I have read scripture scholars who play down this scene.  As they recount it, Jesus and his itinerant band of followers were just a small group that was part of the large crowd of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for their preparation for and celebration of Passover.  And even if this scene did play out as described in this passage from the Gospel of Mark (11:1-10) it was just a little show among so many other exhibitions of piety associated with such a pilgrimage.  These scholars’ eyes are narrowly focused on a small group of people carrying on an unnoticed procession.

I would suggest that this only proves such scholars are not politicians or leaders of religious institutions because these types could care less about Jesus, or his message, or his Blessedness.  They cared because the people cared.  They involved themselves in this distraction of a country rube riding an ass accompanied by a bit of noise because they shared the view of all hierarchs and autocrats that you nip such popular sentiment in the bud.  Stop it before it starts.  If the people get wind of this there’s no telling where or how it will end.  Kill off the ringleader and move on.

Jesus committed a destabilizing act.  On that first Palm Sunday his assault on the established order was already having its effect.  So, what’s the difference between Jesus’ destabilizing event and what our nation has experienced over the past 4 years?  The difference is on the one hand we saw the encouragement of and a strategy for violence, exclusion, tribalism, and destruction for its own sake.

In Jesus, on the other hand, we see the teaching and practice of love, inclusion, gathering together, and building the reign of God on earth.  To begin this Holy Week is to destabilize and to threaten the self-serving and self-promoting ways of certain religious and political leaders and institutions.  To begin this Holy Week in faith and prayer is to follow the One who is riding his way to Glory!

A Prayer (JR)

       We begin Holy Week again.  We count ourselves among Jesus’ first followers.  We, too, sing and proclaim, “Blessed is the Promised One.”   Just like them we hear the Teacher’s voice which speaks of love for neighbor and peace overcoming violence.  And just like them we will shortly find our convictions challenged, our choices dismissed.  Encourage us, God on High, to see you with us as we experience the Jerusalems of daily life.  Renew us by the path Jesus walks through death to Resurrection and Easter Glory.   We pray in the Holy Name.   Amen.

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