The sign on our noticeboard asks the question, “Why did Jesus die?” and answers it with “Because of his politics.” This may seem to be a 21st century response to a deep question that is often answered very differently.
For many people the answer to why Jesus died has to do with the crash known as original sin resulting in broken relationships and a paradise abandoned, the story of two people who made a decision resulting in the suffering of generations following. This story turns the death of the man Jesus into one of sacrifice and scapegoating as a response to the frailty of humanity, seemingly out of proportion to the supposed sin and out of character for a God who was, we told, the one who created us in the first place.
The story John provides us with today, the wandering rabble entering Jerusalem, is a story of confrontation with tradition, power and the political system. Jesus has known for some time that his pronouncements about his relationship with God whom he intimately describes as father, his identification with key theological themes via the I Am statements in John’s Gospel and his general denouncement of both Rome and the Temple elite is not going to end well.
His entry into Jerusalem is an acclamation mark on his political protest. David Ewart reminds us that “Jerusalem is not a large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers.” He adds, “ Do you think anyone at Pilate’s parade heard about Jesus’ parade? Heard what the crowd had shouted? Let’s see what unfolds in the week ahead.”
Now its important to understand that while Jesus death is because of a response to his politics, his politics is not the politics the people of his day, or we of our day are used to. It is not a politic of power and control, of power and control for power and control’s sake alone. Much of what passes for politics can be reduced to self-interest, the self-interest of maintaining control over others for your own benefit. Policies are made and implemented that are designed to maintain those in power to remain in power. Policies, no matter how necessary they may be that would threaten a party’s control on government are quickly jettisoned for those which will ensure power remains in the hands of those who have it now.
The politics of Jesus is the politics of the kingdom of God. The ramble into Jerusalem is symbolic of the politic of non-violence, community, wholeness and inclusion that is the kingdom of God and runs contrary to the politics of power, exclusion, individualism and oppression. Jesus is joined in this final confrontation with those on the margins of society; women, rural folk, those who have been healed physically and redeemed from impossible lives due to the rules enforced by those in religious and political power.
Jesus uses a young donkey, people hail him as King and he enters in defiance of a show of power occurring simultaneously. Jesus is holding up a mirror to society and challenging it to choose the way it wishes to go. Does it continue to live by violence (the Romans), wish to regain independence by violence (the religious leaders) or to offer something new – a vision of the world in which relationships, justice and hope are freely shared with all? Is it ready for a completely new way of doing life ?
Sarah Breuer suggests “Jesus didn’t come to take over Pilate’s system; he came to replace it. When we confess that Jesus is Lord and Christ, the God’s anointed, we are leaving no room for the Pilates of this world.” John makes this very clear when he writes “4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Interestingly this wasn’t what the crowds watching on saw. “11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”” This is the danger in every protest, march or alignment with the kingdom of God, those involved will be seen as prophets or protesters, do-gooders who are interesting, perhaps have something to say, but they and what they have to say are quickly marginalised and sidelined as an oddity. Jesus was abandoned by many who followed him or stood by the road in a very short time because the politics of the kingdom of God not only challenged those in power but also those under their power.
The difficulty we find with Jesus and his politics of the kingdom is it is not remote, it is not about them, it is not out there – it is personal, intimate and revealing, it is about how we live and act in the everyday. We are implicated in the violence of the prevailing politically system every time we pay our taxes, cast our vote or support one or other of the possible contenders. Somewhere in the week after Palm Sunday people may have begun to understand the implications of following Jesus and realised the cost and decided it was more than they could pay. They had families, businesses and responsibilities and while this kingdom of God looks good on paper it is risky and it was a risk they did not wish to take.
After the procession Jesus makes a full frontal attack on the money lenders and the traders in the temple, a blatant protest against the way the politics of both church and state exploited the anawin or little ones, the ones with out power. While this was an annoyance to those in power it was frightening to those who feared the fallout, the very people Jesus kingdom stood for. And over a period of a week the politicians regained the upper-hand and crucified Jesus. Self interest seems always to triumph even if it is the self interest of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
If we just look at this story as a story about Jesus the man who died on the cross we miss the power of Jesus the Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was there at the very beginning of creation and the one we leads us forward as the Omega – our destination as a creation in him somewhere in the future. We miss the truth that this is not about personal frailty, personal sin or even the sinful nature of humanity (original sin) but about the communitarian journey into wholeness – the journey of all of creation to a place where we enter the Garden for the very first time.
The politics of the kingdom are the politics of whole –ing – of making whole, of breaking down all that separates existence into parts. It is a process that began at the beginning of creation and will continue beyond the foreseeable future. It will indeed replace all Pilates, political or religious and take us into places beyond our imagination.
As we walk the dusty road with Jesus do we have what it takes to live out the politics of the kingdom or do we value our own self interest beyond our commitment to the Source of that kingdom? Tough question to answer.