Homily for Palm Sunday 2005
When you think of someone like Ghandi you immediately think of non-violence. You remember how he inspired a non-violent campaign against British rule in India. He achieved his goal without a military force. Rather, it was the sheer power of his person to mobilise people to achieve his aim. Of course it was not all that simple and a lot of people got hurt in the process. But the success did not depend on his military might.
The difficulties of governments today to achieve their policy goals are enormous. In Victoria we hear of their attempts to strengthen legislation against child abuse. The debate is how far should it go. Should zero tolerance of teachers, for example, who have any history at all in their past of any suspicion of abuse, be the goal.
It all emphasises the geat difficulty almost impossiblity of effecting behaviour change by legislation. Laws can attempt to maintain order in society but how to change what appears to be an epidemic in the population is another matter.
The Church has a similar dilemma. The Church too is tempted to change behaviour simply by legislation and penalty. We know enough of history to realise that force has been a chosen option often, let alone in our own day. Debate and discussion is essential but it must be genuine dialogue, a listening to the truth of each, if it is to be Christian at all.
So here we are at Holy Week. We hear of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. He is riding into the seat of power; the power of the Roman governor who has the might of the Roman army behind him. Jesus rides into the seat of power of the Jewish religion; the great Temple rebuilt by Herod in the grandest style. Was Jesus a threat to all this? A two bit preacher from Galilee? He was riding on a donkey not a chariot. He came not as a warrior king but as a shepherd king like David. In terms of physical force Jesus was no threat at all.
The background of Matthew's account lies in Psalm 118 and in the prophet Zecharia both quoted in the reading that began the Procession today. The psalm says amongst other things: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” The psalm has been saying that all victory is from God not in the hands of mere mortals.
And the prophet Zecharia says that the king of Jerusalem will come riding on a donkey. He says this king “will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off andhe shall command peace to the nations.” (Zecharia 9:9,10.)
All this is saying what an African synod of bishops said in 1994, “God does not want to be an idol in whose name one person kills other people.” We might also add God does not even want to be an idol in whose name we call one another fools or dissenters.
That is the thing about our Judeao-Christian faith. We hear of false idols and false gods, in the bible. The God of Jesus is not an idol at all, true or false! The only image the God of Jesus gives us is of one who can do nothing to change the course of events. The God of Jesus set himself up for failure simply by becoming human. As St Paul's hymn says in the second reading very simply, “he emptied himself.”
Jesus knew what he was doing going to Jerusalem. This entry is key to the meaning of the rest of Holy Week. He is not going to lord it over people. He is taking a stand that will cost him his life. It was a stand for non-violence. It was a stand for compassion and forgiveness. It was a stand for God. The witness of his life gave him enormous power. Not over people, but to enable them that to see that there is a far better way of being human.