Palm Sunday is about celebrating the triumphant entrance of the messiah into the capital city, as if the arrival of Jesus was the end of the story, but it isn’t, it is the beginning. It’s the beginning of the easter story and of our story.
As Jesus entered Jerusalem the people waved palms and laid them at his feet, they cheered and praised him as he passed by, excited that the guy who has been healing people, who has been giving them hope has come to their city. What we don’t hear about in the gospel is what else is happening in the city. While Jesus was entering from eastern gate, the roman governor and his legion were marching through the western gate, which was their custom. The governor of Judea did not live in Jerusalem but came there annually for Passover to make sure that no rabblerousing took place. Just being there was a way to show who was in charge. The Hebrew elite likely didn’t think twice about the romans arriving, they were used to that, but this guy they have heard so much about from the countryside was another matter; though I suspect they didn’t give it all that much thought, at least not until Jesus showed up at the temple the very next day and started chasing the merchants and money changers out. Which he did because they were nothing more than thieves taking advantage of people’s belief that they needed to provide a sacrifice to God.
The entire arc of the easter story is about challenging the status quo, it is about challenging so called human authority and replacing it with God’s authority. The ministry of Jesus challenged the cultural and social assumptions of his day by turning to the outcasts and dregs of society. He brought the mercy and love of God to whomever was willing to listen without regard for their socioeconomic status and we are called to do the same. Jesus could easily have focused on the powerful, but he didn’t, he sought to bring about change for all people by refusing to play by the rules of his society; instead, he changed the rules.
There is a movement to change the rules in the United States. Since 2018 the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has been building support to change the status quo for low income and poor people in our country. Currently, 140 million people or 43% of our nation’s population is either living in poverty or just above it. Nearly 50% of our population cannot afford a $400 emergency in their lives, whether it be a car repair or a medical bill.
Another major issue is housing. Affordable housing is scarce these days, a part of the issue is that since 1970, we have seen the number of federally subsidized housing units decline by 10,000 per year. On top of this, most major cities have banned camping, loitering, sitting, and lying down in public places, as well as other behaviors necessary for homeless to survive, making them 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than the general public.
These are only two of the many issues that face nearly half our population, and it doesn’t even begin to touch on these problems at a global level. The current rules by which we play the game of life are broken. They are broken because they were created from desire and fear instead of with love. One of the arguments against raising the minimum wage is that it will cost businesses too much, which is fear, but the flip side is that people are being forced to choose between eating or paying the heating bill. What’s the solution? I have no idea, nor is this the place to hash it out. I am bringing it up because I want to dispel the idea that faith is passive and only meant to be a personal relationship with God that we foster in the privacy of our hearts, because that is not true at all. Jesus was not passive, everywhere he went he was actively spreading the good news that God is among us, that God hears us, that God love us, and he demonstrated that with his actions.
Jesus took bold actions to change the rules, and not just the rules of his time, but for all time. Jesus marched into Jerusalem knowing that trouble was ahead of him, but he trusted that God was with him, and he believed that until his dying breath. And you know what? He was right. God was with him, and God is with us as well, urging us to do what is right for humanity, what is right for the person sitting next to you and the person you will never know. We should pray, and we should go to church, and we should study scripture, but if we don’t also act upon what we learn when we do those things then there is no point in doing them. Jesus was a faithful Jew, who prayed and observed the traditions of the temple, but he also acted based on his belief that God wanted him to be different. We too are called to be different; we are called to march into the world and proclaim the gospel to everyone we see, but that proclamation does not need to be with churchy words. It can be done with a smile while standing in line at the grocery store, and it can be done by standing up for people who can’t stand for themselves. Which is why I will be joining the Poor People’s Campaign march to Washington on June 18. I have no idea if my participation in this event will change anything, but what I do know is that if I sit on my couch and watch another episode of Perry Mason absolutely nothing will change, so I am going to march and as I do so I am going to remember the day Jesus marched into Jerusalem trusting that God had a plan and it is my profound hope that many of you will join me and do the same. More so I hope that many of our young people will join me, please consider this your personal invitation from me to take a chance, to see what faith in action can look like. Talk it over with your parents and if they are willing to let you join me then I hope that you will.
Our faith withers when we become complacent and passive, so as we enter Holy Week, I urge us all to think of ways we can let our complacency wither so when we proclaim Christs resurrection we are fully charged and ready to march.