Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 13, 2014

Central United Methodist Church
Choose Your Parade
Pastor David L. Haley
Palm/Passion Sunday
April 13th, 2014


Ten days ago, President Obama visited Chicago. I have always found the trappings of power that go with the office of the most powerful person in the world fascinating.

On Monday, two choppers flew from O’Hare to Chicago, the advance team, I expect. On Wednesday, the President was due for a fundraising dinner downtown at 4:45 pm. At about 4 pm, Air Force One landed at O’Hare. Shortly after that, you could hear the President’s helicopter, Marine One, along with the accompanying helicopters, head downtown to a landing zone near Soldier Field.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much “Scandal,” but out of curiosity, I googled “Chicago Web Cam,” and sure enough, there is a web cam at the Field Museum overlooking Grant Park. From there, you could see two police cars sitting on Lakeshore Drive, which was shut down. At about 4:35, they sped north. There was a moment of nothing, and then, there was the President’s motorcade, with his limousine, the Beast, near the front, followed by about 6 black Tahoes, about a dozen other vehicles, and the ever-present ambulance. Such is the entrance into the city of Chicago of the most powerful man in the world.

Now, instead of 21st century Chicago, imagine 1st century Jerusalem, no shabby place. Instead of the American flag, imagine the Roman standard. Instead of limousines and SUVs, imagine chariots and warhorses and Roman soldiers. Instead of the President of the United States, imagine the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, entering Jerusalem in procession. He is not Caesar, but he has the authority of Caesar, and the power to enforce occupation, about 3,000 troops. Most of the time Pilate stayed at the fortress of Caesarea, up the coast; but at Passover, when the city was crowded with pilgrims, he was resident in Jerusalem, to make sure there was no funny business. Rome did not like funny business; to make that clear they invented crucifixion.

Unknown to Pilate, there was another parade entering Jerusalem that day or that week, although in comparison with Pilate’s procession, it was laughable. Instead of soldiers in armor, it was made up of fishermen, tax collectors, women and children. Instead of Roman standards, they carried palm branches. Instead of a warhorse, its leader rode a donkey, how wimpy is that? As this parade entered Jerusalem, it was so odd, people asked something I’m sure nobody had to ask about Pilate’s parade: “What’s going on here? Who is this?” To which the parade people answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.” What they didn’t add, was: “You’ve heard of him?”

Not only were these processions different, so also were their leaders.

While not a lot is known about Pontius Pilate, it is established he was the Roman prefect of Judea from 26 to 36. His function was primarily as a military presence, but he was also responsible for the collection of imperial taxes and limited judicial functions. According to Jewish historians, he had a shaky tenure, causing repeated near-insurrections (the opposite of what he was supposed to do) because of his insensitivity to Jewish customs.

For example, the Jewish historian Josephus notes that while Pilate’s predecessors had respected Jewish customs by removing images and effigies on their standards when entering Jerusalem, Pilate allowed his soldiers to bring them into the city at night. The next day, when the citizens of Jerusalem discovered them, they appealed to Pilate to remove the ensigns of Caesar from the city. After five days of demonstrations, Pilate had his soldiers surround the demonstrators, threatening them with death, which the demonstrators dared by baring their necks, rather than submit to desecration of the Mosaic law. Pilate finally relented and removed the images.

In describing his personality, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria writes that Pilate had “vindictiveness and a furious temper”, and was “naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness”. He writes that Pilate feared a Jewish delegation to the Emperor Tiberius, because “if they actually sent an embassy they would also expose the rest of his conduct as governor by stating in full the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.” So in some ways, how characteristic that what Pilate would be most remembered for in history, was as the man who crucified Jesus.

As the leader of the other procession, there was Jesus. Jesus, we know. A man of humble beginnings, with friends in low places: fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. Jesus who preached loving God and loving your neighbor, even your enemies. Jesus who preached forgiving those who do you wrong, turning your cheek and going the extra mile. No wonder he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, as a sign of peace and humility. At heart Jesus was really a country boy, an itinerant preacher on a rural circuit. So visiting the bright lights (well, not that bright) of the big city – the holy city – of Jerusalem for Passover was a big deal.

In fact, for his visit to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was crowded with tourists for Passover, and accommodations were full and therefore expensive, and the rich people got all the good places, the close places, it’s likely Jesus and his disciples could not afford to stay there, and stayed instead with his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus in Bethany, about 1.5 miles from Jerusalem. That’s the distance as the crow flies, but on foot they were over the Mt. of Olives, down through the Kidron Valley, and up Mt. Zion, into Jerusalem. They had to make that walk every morning, and back every night. So after his triumphal entry, after his dramatic cleansing of the Temple, how anti-climactic it must have been to make the long walk back to Bethany. “You guys ready? Yeah, OK, let’s go!” Remember I told you before if I learned anything in Israel last summer, it was my appreciation for Jesus as a serious walker.

Was Jesus naïve? I don’t think so. According to the Gospels, he had been telling his disciples all the way there – whether or not they would hear it – that he would be killed there. The consensus of most scholars is that the historical Jesus, at heart, was an apocalyptic prophet who believed that by his actions he would bring about divine intervention, which would throw out the Romans and usher in the Kingdom of God. Jesus, as the famous historian and theologian Albert Schweitzer stated it, “lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself on it. Then it does turn; and crushes him” (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 370-71). Or so it seems.

So these two processions, these two parades with their two very different leaders, representing two very different kingdoms, are on a collision course. One is the kingdom of Rome, of power and injustice and death; the other the Kingdom of God, of love and justice and life. Which will win?

We may think we know the answer to this, but in truth, the verdict is still out. It is still an allegiance we have to choose every single day, in both attitude and action. Who will be Lord of our lives? Which parade will we choose? Pilate, representing Caesar, and the kingdoms of this world, where money talks and death reigns? Or Jesus, representing the Kingdom of God, where love rules and life reigns. Which will we choose? I think we know the answer.


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