The conversation in our country these day whirls around notions of mistrust of anyone over 30 years of age, mistrust of anyone who appears too politically correct, suspicion of anyone who is wealthy, anger at those who seem to say that their lives matter than others, and fear of being hurt for simply being who we are. And all of that is coming from a conversation about who we should elect to help lead us in a way of peace, prosperity and civic community!
In the historical context that Jesus called home, the Emperor Augustus (and his successors) were considered to be divine. They were so powerful, their military victories so decisive, that they alone were the authors of peace. Augustus himself had vanquished the armies of his adversaries Marc Antony and Cleopatra. This great destruction at Actium in 31 BCE was thought to have purchased a peace that was beyond all prices. That’s what the golden age meant, the Pax Romana – the “Roman Peace” – that made all things new.
Well, at least for those who were Roman citizens; who had chosen the correct side in that civil war; and who were well connected. When such exploits were achieved, victorious military commanders (and their subordinates) would return to Rome for a Triumph: a ticker-tape-like-parade through the center of Rome. The leaders and soldiers would process through the streets to deafening cries of acclamation, followed by the greatest of their defeated opponents and victims who would be dehumanized, mocked and jeered at, all in order to emphasize that true peace comes through violent victory. Rome is always great! No need to make it great again.
Jesus enters Jerusalem, the center of his world, in a quite different way. His Triumph is not one of a laurel-wreath-crowned-general on a war steed, but of a man of the people atop a regular farm-based beast of burden. How many crowds were there to welcome him? He enters not to sacrifices and government acclaim, but to the cries of solidarity and hope of the disenfranchised, the little people (hoi polloi), the 99%.
Hi Triumph is a declaration not of peace through violence, but rather justice through peace, God’s love as the power that makes all things news, reverses the thrones of the mighty and lift the poor and forgotten from the ash heap.
It’s a message that seems to be like a haiku in a foreign language when addressed to our selfie-consumed narcissistic culture in which fame is everything, and the more ludicrous and crass we are, the more pertinent our popularity claims to be.
Questions for Going Deeper:
- What do you think is the message of these scriptures?
- How have you experienced it as truth in your life?
- What invitation do you hear from God in this text to act, say, be or do?