Donald Trump has given every preacher a gift for Palm Sunday. To prove he is in charge. he sends Tomahawk missiles on Friday and a Carrier Strike Force on Sunday. Meanwhile, around the world, churches show a different projection of power. In many parishes a Donkey will have led a Palm Sunday procession through the neighbourhood streets. Power is displayed with a shout of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm leaves.
Jesus the King enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. No gleaming escort or royal troops. No brass bands. No flags. No symbols of personal or national power. No Eagles with arrows in their talons. No slogans of Peace Through Strength. Just a dusty road, a borrowed donkey and peasants waving flora. He’s not very kingly with his talk of turning your cheek to be struck over and over and the idea that your neighbour’s life is as important as yours. God’s idea of the good life is very different from what we conjure for ourselves and set as the template for all.
Jesus, the King on a donkey, exhorts us to see the futile nature of sabre rattling and power projection. He makes us conscious that conventional munitions kill Trump’s “beautiful babies” just as tragically as chemical weapons. He leads us to see the show of force is not really about beautiful babies but rather policy and alliances and national prestige. People don’t really come into it.
Jesus, the King on a donkey, only has love of God and love of neighbour to offer. The Church has spun that into complicated theories of just war and Christendom where the state is God’s agent of order, justice and purpose. In reality those things are confessions of our failure to ride the donkey. Just like the guy who asks, “Who is my neighbour”, we spark a parable about good Samaritans and the idea that citizens of the kingdom do not have enemies but only possible future friends.
Jesus sits in paradox to the kingdoms of this world and requires us to ask what is so special about our kingdom that it needs protecting with missiles and warships and sabre rattling rhetoric.
Donald Trump’s election (and the Brexit vote here for that matter) wasn’t because of racists, economic left behinds or alt right fanatics; though they are all factors.
What brought him to power were three national myths:
- Scarcity: There is only a limited amount of rights and opportunity and wealth to go around. If everyone has the same rights and access to opportunity it somehow takes away from me.
- Scapegoating: who are the people doing this to me? Corporations, blacks, women, illegals, gays. “We’ve been pretty tolerant of what they’ve wanted so far and now they want to take more. Well, the line is drawn here.” I genuinely believe people without a consciously racist or sexist bone in their bodies bought into this because it wasn’t about isms; it was about survival in a time of scarcity.
- Infinity is possible: We can consume in unlimited volumes and it will be keep coming. Yes, that seems to contradict myth one but it works on the following logic: there is infinity but my access to it is being blocked by all these other people who keep asking to have what I have in the same amount. There is infinity for me as long as there isn’t for others. White voters voted in their droves to restore their access to infinity because the scarcity was caused by people who they felt shouldn’t be in a position to cause it in the first place.
Jesus, the King on a donkey, didn’t believe these myths and neither did his mother. When she found out she was carrying him in her womb she sang the Magnificat which contains these phrases:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. Luke 1
The Gospel of Matthew tells about the adult Jesus sitting on a hill with a bunch of others while telling them how his kingship would turn the world upside down. The people who mattered were the meek, the mourning, the peaceful, the pure, the persecuted and those who wanted to be righteous. Jesus tells them if power is the starting point then we’re looking in the wrong place. If you want a kingdom guaranteed to create poverty, conflict and joylessness then follow the one with the proper parade and honour guard.
Jesus, the King on the Donkey, is a ridiculous figure in a ridiculous procession declaring a ridiculous Kingdom of love and a sacrifice. His power doesn’t teach the world a lesson, but instead saves it. His parade does not lead to higher poll ratings but rather to a cross. This is a procession about our heart’s desire: palm fronds or tomahawks. You can’t have both.