Donkey as Satire, Palms as Protest

SCRIPTURE  |  John 12:1-19

Today, I want to talk about paradoxes. 

A paradox, as some of you may know, is a statement that seems to contradict itself at first, but when you investigate it further you find some truth to it. 

There are a number of paradoxes throughout scripture and in our faith that sound completely absurd and contradictory at first reading and yet we lift them up as some of the deepest truths at the center of our faith:

We see… unseen things.
We become wise… by being fools for Christ’s sake.
We find our freedom… by becoming servants.
We gain strength… when we are weak.
We conquer... by giving up power.
We triumph… through defeat.

Perhaps some of the greatest paradoxes in scripture come from Christ himself and are modeled by him in this last week of his life…

We show the most power by getting on our knees and serving.
We are made great by becoming low and small.
We are exalted when we are humble.
We live even in death.

Jesus, was the ultimate paradox.
He turned the world as we know it upside down,
and he reinterpreted everything we think we know by showing us how God truly sees the world. 

Jesus’ ministry was contradictory and foolish by the world’s standards,
but powerful and awe-inspiring by God’s.
Christ was powerful because he gave up power,
He was respected and revered,
named king above all earthly rulers,
anointed with rare and exotic perfumes
because he was a humble servant.

Nothing exemplifies this more I think, than our story today,
with Jesus, being given a hero’s welcome by a crowd
as he comes into the capitol city,
a parade for a king in front of all of the actual people who hold power
This story of Jesus,
Our king over all kings, Our Lord over all Lords,
the sovereign, mighty, perfecter of our faith  
riding into Jerusalem mounted on… 
…a donkey.

This is what Our Lord chooses to triumphantly mount for his ride into Jerusalem.
There is nothing triumphant, majestic, or powerful about a donkey. Its the total opposite of how we might imagine a King’s arrival into Jerusalem.
It seems absurd, contradictory, paradoxical, and outrageous. And this was exactly how Christ intended it to be. This event was designed to be exactly this shocking and disarming and hilarious for all the people of Jerusalem and especially for all of the rulers of Jerusalem.

Chuck Campell, The preaching professor at Duke divinity school, calls this scene a political act of “street theater.” A sort of avant-garde protest that is intended to be a satire against the powers and principalities of their time.

Campbell describes it this way: 

In his street theatre, Jesus enacts a carnivalesque parody of kingship. In his “Triumphal entry”, he lampoons the “powers that be” and their pretension to glory and dominion, and he enacts an alternative to their way of domination. 

Riding on a [donkey], his feet possibly dragging on the ground, Jesus comes not as one who lords his authority over others, but as one who humbly rejects domination.
He comes not with pomp and wealth, but as one identified with the poor. 

He comes not as a mighty warrior, but as one who is vulnerable and refuses to rely on violence.
Jesus here takes on the role of jester, who is acting out in a humorous and disorienting way a totally different understanding of “rule” and in doing so he invites people to see and live in the world in a new way.
— Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2: p. 157

And oh, how the people responded! 
They want to welcome him somehow, so they take what they have with them, their coats, and the palm branches of trees in the fields, anything to honor the presence of Jesus.
And they all begin to lay them on the street to make a way for him into Jerusalem.
They shout “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” “God Saves!” “Long live our King!”
They begin to recognize God’s presence in this strange, wonderful, and unexpected person.

I’ve heard the laying down of palm branches by the citizens of Jerusalem described as a protest. 

By honoring this humble man mounted on a donkey, representing God and not the state,
they took power from the political leaders of Jerusalem, and gave it to this humble person, Jesus. 

At their best, protests reveal the gospel amidst the clamor of this world. They put the powers and principalities in their place. They unmask new realities by their creative insight. 

This section inspired by the Children's Book "White Flour" written by David Lamotte, Illustrated by Jenn Hales. Highly Recommend the story!

This section inspired by the Children's Book "White Flour" written by David Lamotte, Illustrated by Jenn Hales. Highly Recommend the story!

It’s like the story of 2007 KKK rally in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Residents, unhappy that a clan rally was being held in their town organized a counter-protest to respond to the Klan members. The residents dressed up and formed a group they called the Coup Clutz Clowns… yes… clowns.

As the marchers screamed, “White power!” the clowns smiled calmly,
and making sure they heard the men correctly, they pulled out huge bags of “white flour,” ripping them open and hurling it into the air.

The marchers were not pleased with this, one ran at the clowns and got arrested. 

But the rally and chants continued, and so, the clowns figured they must have misheard.
“Clearly we’ve been wrong about why we’re gathering here today”
They thought “They must be saying, ‘White Flowers’”
and they passed out bouquets to the spectators and ralliers.

The rally kept on, the chants continued. The clowns realized they hadn’t yet given the marchers what they wanted. So they listened harder to their chanting until they finally got it. “Ohhh, Tight showers!” that’s it. And they pulled out a camp shower and all the clowns gathered in tightly underneath it.

The marchers had gotten quieter by this point, their rally was being mocked at every turn but they kept up their chanting until one last response from the clowns. “Friends, we’ve been wrong all along, these marches are here for ‘Wife power!’” And the clowns threw on wedding dresses and the men raised the wives above their shoulders, chanting in celebration, “Here’s to wives and mothers!”

Well, at this point the men in white hoods knew they’d lost. As they sulked away a policeman asked if the clowns would like an escort. The clowns handed that officer a white flower, and off they all continued to march down the street, joined by hundreds of smiling supporters,
transforming the rally that day, into a clown celebration.

Throughout the bible there is this re-occurring storyline,
where the thing that is most unexpected, most out of the ordinary,
Ends up becoming the central piece to God’s action in the world.

God is defiant against the powers of our world

We expect God to act certain ways in our life, but God never does,
instead God flips the supposed “order of the world” on its head…
God never uses the normal paths for change, instead God uses the most unexpected people,
and the most absurd and unlikely situations to shape the world,
and throughout history movements for positive change
begin with other small town rabbis, riding into the capitol on their donkeys…

These Clowns saw the powers of racism, fear, and hate
but they did not see them as insurmountable.
Instead, They unmasked them
by adopting methods that revealed the truth,
that supported love, and brought the community together. 

God does not play by our rules.
And friends, This is the good news!

Because the story the world tells us, that we are ultimately useless and insignificant, that our voice doesn’t matter, that the powerful will triumph over the weak could not be further from the truth in God’s eyes.

Instead Jesus, The man we meet in Holy Week, is King. 
The one who is humbly riding on a donkey
The one who is serving on his knees washing feet
The one who shared his bread and wine
The one who prayed to God in the Garden
The one who died on a cross.

All praise be to our King
Hosanna in the Highest. Amen.

Rev. Trip Porch
March, 25 2018
First Presbyterian Church
Granville, OH