Thursday, April 13, 2017

Palm Sunday, Explained(?)

I've never been a fan of Palm Sunday, even as a kid.
Break this down for me, WP.
Palm Sunday -- celebrating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem -- is usually treated as one of those significant biblical episodes a Sunday School teacher should have no trouble imprinting on a kid's consciousness. And on one level it certainly qualifies -- it has undeniable visual high drama. Because it is easy enough to mimic, the beleaguered teacher marshals the tots to the front of the church to give it a go.
Attention to detail, historical accuracy are integral to proper reenactment.
The trouble is the story doesn't make a lick of sense -- not to me as a kid, nor did it to me for many years as an adult. Those palm-waving crowds -- what was their motivation?
Explicable: crowd response to Jesus' trial. Triumphal entry? Not so much.
The plainest reading of any of the gospels does not paint a promising picture of Jesus as Messiah. The miracles are sweet, but hardly the sort of activity that overthrows an Empire. The rest of it is basically Jesus bickering with his own kind -- other Jews, specifically the keepers of the Torah.

Discontent with the priesthood is as old as the priesthood itself -- so why give this working-class upstart from the backwaters of Nazareth a hero's welcome?

A possible answer to this niggling question didn't occur to me until this last Palm Sunday, as I watched the kids give each other shrugs and proceed with the usual tepid adult-sanctioned pandemonium in the sanctuary. It hinges on that singular gift the Jews have bestowed upon the world at large . . .
"Oy vey, Prajer..."
. . . irony!

If I were a Jew -- caught between an oppressive and contemptuous Empire, an appeasing and self-indulgent political figurehead from my own Tribe, and a religious elite focused on their continued well-being with little concern for my own -- and I was trying to pull my family together for a Passover visit to Jerusalem, and I saw this smelly, malnourished Nazarene mashuganah whose rumoured exploits I regarded with some skepticism if not outright cynicism seated on an ass and being led down the Mount of Olives toward the temple by his sheepish-looking followers, would I join in the growing furor and lay down my cloak on the road and urge the kids to go rip off a few fronds, the better to "hail" him as our people's great salvation?
You betcha!
It's not a scriptural insight that would have occurred to me were it not for the times we live in. I should be grateful, I suppose . . .


Joel Swagman said...

I was just recently reading Bart Ehrman's thoughts on Palm Sunday in "Did Jesus Exist?". (If you'll forgive the digression. I know you were making a different point, but...)

Bart Ehrman believes that Jesus did exist and that the Gospel stories have a historical basis. But some mythologizing took place along the way.

Bart Ehrman is skeptical that the whole incident even took place. He doesn't think the Romans would have allowed it.

I'm no scholar, but my own common sense tells me that it might have taken place. A spontaneous demonstration on some scale might have been hard for the Romans to prevent, and they got their revenge by the end of the week anyway.

But more interestingly, read the account of Palm Sunday in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding two animals at once. This is because (according to Ehrman) Matthew missed the poetic intent of Zechariah's prophecy.

See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew interprets this as two different animals, and so in Matthew's version Jesus rides both a donkey and a colt at once.

Whisky Prajer said...

I haven't checked, but would imagine this episode passes the smell test with the Jesus Seminar folks, for what that's worth, as it is a focal point in all four gospels including Mark (which is key). As for the donkey/colt business, I recall a friend regaling me of some inerrantist's line of argument on this matter boiling down to, "If there were two there was one." With pretzel logic like that, you can make just about anything inerrant, I suppose.