Palm Sunday: A Crime of Passion
You could say that Jesus committed a crime of passion.
He broke no civil or moral law. But the authorities perceived a threat in the passion that motivated him and still animates the movement he started.
Had Jesus restricted himself to feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and clothing the ragged, he might have gone unnoticed. The Empire could perhaps have even welcomed his work as a way of unintentionally mollifying the poor and the oppressed with temporary relief.
But a larger, bolder dream inspired Jesus: the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. God sent Jesus not only to console and comfort humans in our misery, but also to pursue a world that no longer creates hunger or homelessness, mass incarceration or terrified refugees.
In the Roman Empire – as in every Empire – a relatively small group of elites maintained their own privilege, power and wealth at the expense of the struggling masses. Jesus envisioned a world built upon recognizing and maintaining the dignity of every human being.
This dream was the Passion of Christ. For those in power, that passion was a threat. So they called Jesus a criminal and put him to death.
He was a threat, and so they called him a criminal.
On Palm Sunday, we experience Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the civil authority’s violent, deadly response to his message. Congregations will read the Passion Gospel. We will be reminded once again of the public mockery, merciless flogging and harrowing execution that Jesus endured.
But we will miss the central meaning of Jesus’ Passion if we linger only on his agony. When we contemplate the cross, we can remember the dream for which Jesus was willing to endure this suffering. That is the dream that continues to motivate the Jesus Movement to this day.
The struggle for a just and peaceful world has been long. And it will go on with uneven strides and unforeseen setbacks. But even in times that seem to threaten to turn Jesus’ dream to dust, we can hold fast to hope.
Our hope derives from God’s response to Jesus’ Passion. God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. God vindicated that passion. And by doing so, God assures us that our passion as the Jesus Movement will not be in vain.
Episcopal Relief & Development embodies Christ’s passion. We can participate in the loving, life-giving, liberating work of the Jesus Movement by partnering with Episcopal Relief & Development. Our dream is not only to relieve suffering temporarily, but also to cooperate with God’s grace in building a world where suffering is no more.
The Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby is Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana. He blogs at “Looking for God in Messy Places.”