From sadistic priests to seditious carpenters

Today in the Orthodox Church is the Feast of the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. As we processed around the Church I thought about this act that was uniting us with those worshipers of the Lord almost 2000 years ago. May we not be like so many who would turn their back on him later in the week. Yet the whole process of this betrayal was already in motion even before this event had happened. After word had reached the chief priests and elders of the Jews what our Lord Jesus Christ had done at the grave of Lazarus his friend, and immediately comprehending the implications, that if this guy could raise the dead, their days as the religious big Kahuna’s were numbered, they knew what they had to do: they had to off both Jesus and his accomplice in these things, namely Lazarus. Caiaphas stated the stakes quite clearly: “it is expedient that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole people perish.” What brought about this expediency? They knew that Jesus’ fame would supplant them, and eventually end the equilibrium they had established with Rome, and thus Rome would come and not only do away with the rule of the Scribes and Pharisees, but also obliterate the whole nation. In short, they saw that Jesus by his deeds was making a pretty good case to be the Messiah, the Son of David, and the one who would restore the kingdom of David.

This became all the more evident when five days before the Passover Jesus entered Jerusalem (having dined with Lazarus the day before) to the cheers and acclaim of the Jewish People: “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the Name of the Lord!” We of course know this as Palm Sunday, and the acts of the Jewish people, the children shouting Christ’s praises, were all a very seditious act. Quite simply, such lauds, such acts of fealty as spreading out palm leaves, was something done in Rome, first for the great proconsuls who acting in the capacity as the chief executive of Rome’s purpose abroad, would return in triumph to Rome to the acclaim of Rome, and to the spread of Palm and Olive branches in the streets. If we remember our history, often this would entail in Rome quite the signal for new arrangements. Sulla’s sudden and precipitous return from the east harkened the whole reorganization, and a bloody one at that, of all of Rome. (Sulla had already had a triumpant entry upon his defeat of the Cimbri. His proconsulship for the east to fight Mithradates in Pontus brought with it the revolt against his imperium by his long-time rival Marius. Sulla’s volt face – – he did have the legions – – brought with it bloody retributions, and with them Sulla’s attempt to reform the Republic. His enemies, including Gaius Julius Caesar, scattered.)

Thus, the cries of the Jewish people on this day were not some sudden, impulsive response, unprecedented in the annals of history. Given how fast news traveled in the Mediterranean, it was still hot off the presses. In fact the chief priests and Pharisees knew what it was precisely. The Jewish people were denouncing Rome, and embracing the reign of Christ, the coming of the Kingdom of God, synonymous with the restoration of the Davidic king through great David’s greater Son. Thus when we identify with those first-century Jews on this day, we are proclaiming that no earthly polity has our absolute allegiance, and that any that calls us to question our allegiance to Christ, we must renounce. Pretty seditious stuff.

About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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