Palm Sunday is Guerrilla Warfare

What is the story behind Palm Sunday?  This morning Christians waived palms and yelled "Hosanna! Hosanna!"  But what is the story behind the story?  Let's look to Mark's Gospel. palm sunday icon


Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus has slowly been making His way towards Jerusalem.  Moving from the outer edges of the Palestinian territory towards the center of religious and politically powerful.  Every year to mark the Passover, Jews would make the same trip to Jerusalem as pilgrims, but Jesus is not a pilgrim here.  He is as Ched Myers call Him, “a subversive prophet challenging the foundations of state power”.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

(Mt 21:1–11; Lk 19:28–40; Jn 12:12–19)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

theaterThis is choreographed political theater.  Just like the conventions held by the Republican and Democrat parties are nothing but choreographed theatrics, what Jesus is doing here is staged political drama.  The people on the streets of Jerusalem, especially the disciples following Jesus would have known exactly what the actions of Jesus meant (and reflected) as they unfolded.  What Jesus is doing here replicates what Jews would expect a triumphant Messiah to do.

As Jesus is making his way through the gates and into the city the crowds begin to chant:


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

The parade that unfolds mirrors what has happened throughout the history of Israel (Genesis 49.11, 1 Samuel 6.7ff, 2 Kings 9.13, Psalm 118.25f).

The prophet Zechariah spoke of exactly what Jesus is doing.  Describing it as a “final apocalyptic battle” where God’s chosen would take a stand against its enemies.  What Jesus is doing is a mirror of what Simon Maccabaeus did.

Who were the Maccabees?

The Maccabean Revolt occurred between 167 and 160 BCE.  It was a conflict between the Maccabees (a rebel Judean group) and the Seleucid Empire.  The practice of the Jewish religion had been outlawed.  A Jewish priest, Mattathias, refused to worship the Greek gods and sparked the revolt from the Seleucid Empire.  The rebel Jews fled into the wilderness and in 166 BCE led by Judah Maccabee, an army of Jewish dissidents into the Selecuid Empire in a guerrilla warfare type attack.

After the victory of the Maccabees, the Temple was ritually cleansed and Jonathan Maccabee was installed as the high priest.  Hanukkah is a celebration of the re-dedication of the Temple.

This is what many expected the coming Messiah to do to the occupying Roman Empire.

What Mark is doing here is taking the symbolism of a triumphant guerrilla general and reorganizing it to express something that is specifically anti-military, which we see in Zechariah 9.9f:

The Coming Ruler of God’s People

(Mt 21:5; Jn 12:14–15)

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 Hec will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the war-horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off,

and he shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is approaching to Temple not to defend it with military might, but instead he is going to disrupt the political power that has taken up residence in the Temple.