On Palm Sunday, Christians reenact the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds cheer him as a king.
I don’t think such an event ever happened, but I do think great truths are hidden in that story.
I can’t imagine the Romans ever allowing Jesus’s Followers to have a parade with thousands of angry (occupied) Jews gathered in confined spaces. That’s the formula for a riot.
The gospels were written as religious histories (facts were not considered important) with underlying messages—in this case, convincing people that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (Christ in Greek). So, early Christians developed the Palm Sunday story and used many Old Testament quotes to substantiate their claim. The most famous is from Zechariah, a sixth-century-BCE prophet who prophesied that “your king comes . . . humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9)—and that’s just what Jesus did. Other quotes come from Ezekiel 44:1–3, Psalm 118:25–26, and Genesis 49:11. Thus, the hidden truth of the Palm Sunday tale is that Jesus is the Messiah.
Unfortunately, the Jewish hierarchy didn’t agree, and they expelled Jesus’s Followers from Judaism sometime in the late first century CE.
Jewish scholars use a process called midrash to interpret scripture at a deeper level or look at the stories in a different way.
Here are a few other Midrash interpretations of the Palm Sunday parade that people came up with over the centuries:
- Rome had the armies, the might, and the power to conquer the world. But less than five hundred years later, the Roman Empire was gone. However, the “army” of Jesus is still around and conquering the world—with agape.
- Might (Roman military power) does not make right. Agape (Jesus’s philosophy) makes right.
Let me try a twenty-first-century midrash. The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, a tactic Russia tried and failed to achieve in the late seventies and eighties. At one point, someone suggested that instead of fighting the many hostile factions within Afghanistan, which has not seen peace for over a thousand years, our military should help them build infrastructure to connect and unite the country. We could build schools for both girls and boys, set up hospitals, provide higher education for both men and women, establish a democratic form of government, and bring Afghanistan into the twenty-first century. That would be a solution in the tradition of Palm Sunday’s parade of agape.
Instead, the United States chose the Roman way, and nineteen years later, our army is still in Afghanistan, losing the sixth war in my lifetime.
Agape is the way to make peace. A superexpensive military with a mediocre win-loss record doesn’t seem to work.
Will we ever learn that loving people and helping them to improve their lives is so much more effective than killing them?
Couldn’t we try agape at least once? Suppose we loved our Iranian friends to “life” instead of starving them to death? Palm Sunday suggests that would be a better solution.
What do you say?