How do you portray Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? What art works for it?
It’s a strange event. It has Jesus, a donkey, weeping, a crowd shouting out, a city, a group of protagonists, high drama and expectation.
Surely, all the ingredients for a great work of art.
Yet it is a strange event.
Jesus allowing himself to be portrayed as a Messiah knowing that he is on his way to die. Yet those around him don’t see that.
The crowd senses freedom, the authorities sense danger.
Knowing that he has stirred up a nest of anger and hatred and rejection he rides on a donkey towards Jerusalem.
Jesus challenges the authorities. But the scene is not one that can easily be represented in a painting.
Maybe the best that we can do is remember one of those great political moments. Martin Luther King and the March on Washington with his “I have a dream speech”, Nelson Mandela and his concern to create a new South Africa or even Aung San Suu Kyi in her struggle with the Burmese Government.
These capture the underdog challenging the powers that be. The sense of anticipation by the crowd. But also the danger. For the crowd with you can all too easily be dispersed.
But there is an extra element for Jesus. His motivation. It’s love.
Not the emotion of love or the use of ‘love’ as ‘like’ as in ‘I love chocolate’ or ‘I love watching football’.
No, for Jesus, love is that described in 1 John 4
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Love for Jesus was not a feeling or an emotion. It was a way. His way is described so well by the apostle Paul when he says:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
So, Jesus entering Jerusalem is on the path not to political glory but to perfection of love. And that love is costly. It is about to cost him everything.
The problem for the crowd (and all too often for us) is that we aren’t prepared to pay the price of following the way of Jesus. Which is why Palm Sunday still has such power, and why it still echoes (albeit not often enough) in the political spheres and shocks and concerns those in power. It’s not a normal revolution. A revolution where the chief challenger is prepared to die not in an apocalyptic massacre but rather prepared to give his life for the sake of others. Out of love for his enemies.
Other Meditations for Holy Week: