Was Palm Sunday a Procession or Political Protest?

A depiction of the passion story told on palm sunday

Was Palm Sunday a Procession or Political Protest?

By Rev. Chris Haris

According to New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, the parade that we reenact each year on “Palm Sunday” — marking Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem — would not have been the only parade to mark that occasion. From the other side of the city, another parade would have approached, orchestrated as a show of force orchestrated by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. 

According to Crossan, Pilate resided in the coastal city of Caesarea and rarely visited Jerusalem. But during Passover, when 100,000 or more Jews descended on the city to celebrate, he would relocate his headquarters to the heart of the city in order to maintain control and quell any potential uprisings against Roman rule.

Pilate’s parade was a stark contrast to Jesus’ humble entry atop a donkey, heralded by the waving of palms. The Roman governor’s procession was intended to showcase the military might of Imperial Rome – chariots of war surrounded by cavalry and armored soldiers. It was a calculated display meant to deter any thoughts of liberation from Roman oppression, and it would have no doubt struck fear and resentment amongst the local population looking on.

Crossan goes so far as to argue that the procession that Jesus and his followers organized was intended as a deliberate, counter-demonstration; more political protest than a spontaneous procession. This bit of “street theater” was intended to contrast the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim, one based on humility, universal love, and non-violence, with the kingdom of Rome.

Perhaps not only to contrast with it, but to outright challenge it?    

It’s a possibility worth keeping in mind as we raise our palms this weekend. Which kingdom do we proclaim? Which kingdom are we working to bring about? Which kingdom do we participate in, and which do we challenge?  

Hosanna in the highest!

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