Palm Sunday: On faith and politics

I find it interesting to reflect on Palm Sunday during an election year. The parallels are far from perfect, but if you’ll forgive me a bit of imaginative retelling, I think there’s something to be learned.

The story plays out in a convention atmosphere. The city of Jerusalem is thronged with Jewish pilgrims. Even during religious festivals, the presence of the Empire is keenly felt, and resented by many.

In fulfillment of ancient prophecy, Jesus comes riding toward the city on the back of a donkey’s colt. It’s a humble steed for a King, and shows what kind of King he is. Some of the people in the crowd, no doubt, remember the prophecy. Many of the Jews would be watching and waiting for signs of their Messiah-King, the one anointed by God to be their champion, their rescuer. And the whole area surrounding Jerusalem has been abuzz with talk of the miracle worker who raised Lazarus from the dead.

The people’s religious and political dreams are fused. If they could vote, they’d vote for the candidate that ran on an anti-Rome platform rather than a pro-righteousness one. And today, this year, the story of Palm Sunday speaks to me of what happens when Jesus rides into the Jerusalem primary.

The people’s hopes are projected onto Jesus. Mob psychology prevails; emotions are contagious. Some cheer the arrival of their king. And many cheer simply because others are cheering.

Jesus comes symbolizing a kingdom of peace, but the people want power. He comes riding a donkey’s colt, but in their fevered imaginations, what they see is Air Force One.

And just scant days later, when their political hopes seem dashed yet once again, they turn on him and call for his crucifixion.

I make no claims for the historical accuracy of such a reading, though I suspect it’s not far off the mark. But the point is that people are people, and faith and politics have sat uneasily together in every age.

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity, perhaps even the mandate, to sit back and reflect: Who is the King? And what kind of kingdom do we want?