palm sundayToday is Palm Sunday. Christian churches everywhere will be commemorating the day Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem in what we have come to call his “triumphal entry.” Children will process down the aisles waving palm branches, the organ will play loudly, and congregants will sing.

Despite the legends we have built around this event, I suspect it was quite different. Jesus had a pretty good idea of what was ahead.   Jesus knew what happened to people who were guilty of sedition. He knew what became of people who peacefully or violently stood against the tyranny of political and religious institutions. Many had done it before him, and all had either renounced their views or were brutally executed.

His followers were clueless. I suspect they were excited with the idea, but embarrassed with the method.  When Jesus chose to ride a donkey into the city, I suspect there was a lot of side discussion among them. “Do we have to do it this way? Can’t we talk him into something a little more dignified?”

But Jesus was on a mission, and it was not to have a triumphal entry. He was helping his followers unlearn their ideas about the Messiah, about greatness and power. He had used words. Now he was showing them.

His actions of riding on a donkey said, “This is what greatness looks like. Do you want to see power? Here it is. You must give up your notions of greatness. You must grieve the loss of your expectations of what a successful life looks like.”

The leaders of his day, the emperors and high priests, came to power either by force or by birth. Jesus demonstrated that his power came through genuine and courageous humility. Not a passive humility, but a militant humility that drove him to quietly and peacefully do what he needed to do, without explanation or excuse or fanfare.

evangelical votersWhat a contrast to our culture today. In this day of political campaigning, I find it appalling to see candidates competing for “best Christian.” I cringe when I hear of the competition for the evangelical vote. How can you be voted “most popular” among people whose lives should be characterized by sacrifice, service, and “dying to self”?

Jesus demonstrated what true greatness looks like, not among voters and constituents, but rather among “the least of these” who have no power, who have no voice, who have nothing to give in return.