Being “Northern Irish” (or from the “North of Ireland” according to your politics) and having grown up through the “Troubles” (as the 40 year old sectarian conflict is known) it was hard to avoid politics. Politics regarding one’s sense of identity, culture and nationality amidst the ferment of ancestral differences and hatreds and searing individual traumas.
And people were told (or led to believe) that God was on “their” side. “Our” side, not “your” side. God wrapped up in a Union Jack or a Tricolour when the cause required.
I learned at an early age to recognise the political cues, language and tone of those around me in terms of what “grouping” I belonged to. Political conversation during those times was largely guided by the maxim “Whatever you say, say nothing”.
Genuine encounter with someone my age, from my hometown, from a different political background with a different set of cultural expectations only began to occur aged 19 when travelling on the train to Belfast. Just imagine…
Back to this Sunday’s Gospel reading for “Palm Sunday” from John 12 v 12 to 16.
The life and witness of Jesus can be very unsettling. Identity, culture and nationality may not always be as important as they seem to us, as the Gospel reading for this Sunday outlines.
This week’s Gospel reading concerns Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, adored by the masses seeking more miracles, loathed by the authorities and religious leaders, tying to work out what exactly this “King” was up to.
Jesus making some significant political statements amidst the troubling times of first century Palestine. Going well beyond the Ulster societal maxim that I encountered of, “Hear all, see all and say (swear word) all”.
According to Borg and Crossan in, “The Last Week” (SPCK 2008), Christ’s journey to Jerusalem on what we now call “Palm Sunday” saw Jesus intentionally challenge the powers that be.
The writers argue that Christ’s “parade” occurred at the height of the Passover when the city was full of worshippers making their way to the High Temple. At the same time, the Roman authorities also held a “parade” that saw Pilate and his Legionnaires enter Jerusalem (not to worship God) rather to make sure the Jews knew who their colonial master was. Two “parades”, two very different messages.
In choosing to enter the city on a donkey, Christ, as Borg and Crossan point out, fulfills the Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah Chapter 9 that Israel’s King would arrive on a donkey to bring peace and to banish war. Christ knew what he was signifying to those who watched his journey and his disciples, that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy but not one who would restore Israel’s political integrity as many watching and cheering thought. Nor would Jesus kick out the Romans to boot as it turned out.
In a world where the rallying cry from the Feminist movement of the 1960’s, “The personal is political” can be applied to so, so many concerns impacting humanity, the Church in its service of God’s Kingdom must be (small “p”) “political”. “Political” in so far as the Kingdom of God is concerned with everyone’s well being and flourishing. Christ himself, riding a donkey into Jerusalem at the height of the Passover, amidst Israel’s conqueror’s parade; was a political act. Christ chose to get political, to get involved, to offer alternatives to the world as it was then.
And why does this matter today?
Maybe because each individual’s carrying of the “Imago Dei” matters, (The image of God). What happen across society, politically, socially, environmentally, medically, economically, in terms of war or peace, (the list is endless), happens for everyday people. Like you and me. The personal and the political are forever woven together, witness the environmental movement, the “Environmental movement”, the “Me too” movement, the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the “Peace process” still unfurling in Northern Ireland.
Borg and Crossan in the introduction to their work “The Last Week” express this clearly by way of a Christian worldview..
“The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel”.
What might this mean?
Maybe in daily living out, in big and small ways, “the justice of God”…
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Matthew Ch 25 v 34 to 36. The Message.
To act, or not to act in the outworking of the “kingdom of God” is “political”. To see the image of God in the “other” is “political”. Donkey or no donkey, parade or no parade.