YESTERDAY Christians celebrated Palm Sunday. It’s always a picturesque event — many churches have processions where people wave palms and sing. But what’s it all about? And what might it mean today?
Palm Sunday commemorates the day when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem just before his crucifixion.
At the time, many people were looking for a strong leader who would free them from Roman occupation.
This miracle worker from Galilee, who had been astounding everyone with his teaching and powers, looked as if He might be it.
His entry even followed a prophecy that talked about a liberating king coming “righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey”.
And so the crowds acclaimed as Messiah the one who combined lowliness (ever tried to look dignified on a donkey?) and power.
And as a way of showing their welcome, they threw palms and cloaks in his path.
With all the cheering and support, it must have been a heady experience — enough to have anyone thinking about how they might use this power, take charge, seize the moment.
But Jesus wasn’t anyone. He hadn’t come to get power for himself, but to live — and die — as the expression of God’s love for the world.
And so He didn’t seize the moment in the way people anticipated.
Instead He kept on doing what He had always done, proclaiming God’s justice and righteousness and love.
He swept the moneychangers from the Temple, healed people, raised the dead.
It wasn’t at all what most people wanted and within a short time, they had changed their approval to calls for him to be crucified.
What might this mean for us?
One of yesterday’s Bible readings talked about “having the same mindset as Christ,” who, although God, didn’t hold onto his privilege, but humbled Himself….
A lot of people struggle with the concept of “humbling yourself.”
What is it? Doing whatever other people want? Never standing up for yourself?
Thinking you’re worse at everything than other people? Surely those can’t be good things?
They’re not. But they’re also not the kind of humility that Jesus showed.
Those descriptions really don’t fit someone who walks into the Temple and overturns the moneychangers’ tables.
Jesus’ type of humility is centred in this — recognising that the centre of the universe isn’t the self, but God … and acting accordingly.
It’s a humility that’s prepared to recognise God’s authority and to see the world God created and loves as God sees it, with other people as precious as ourselves.
That viewpoint brings risks. Because if you really believe that everyone is precious, then in a world where many don’t have enough to survive, you’re going to try to use fewer resources for yourself so there are more for those in need and you’ll call for others to do the same.
You’ll look at structures that keep people poor and try to turn the tables on them. You’ll follow God’s call, whatever the cost.
Just as in the 1st century, such actions won’t be popular. And so, whether you’re Christian or of another faith or of no faith, if you take them, you’ll face opposition.
But here’s the thing. The people I’ve met who really followed Christ’s humility — not in the halfhearted way that I sometimes do, but with their whole lives — had a kind of freedom I’ve often longed for, a freedom of spirit that meant they couldn’t be imprisoned by circumstances, that they could love and give and forgive with resources that went far beyond human strength.
Turns out the Messiah on the donkey is a liberator after all.