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A Palm Sunday Newscast and Commentary (Neville Watson and Karen Sloan) 9.4.2017

ABC News Music

(Karen) This is channel JEW coming to you from Jerusalem on the first day of the Passover Festival of year 32, the Festival of Freedom which draws tens of thousands of the Jewish people to Jerusalem to commemorate their delivery from slavery in Egypt. Given the fact that the country is under Roman occupation this is a time of unrest and Governor Pontius Pilate brings a cohort of soldiers from Caesarea on the coast to keep the peace. They are about to enter the city through the Jaffa Gate and we cross now to our reporter Nev Watson who is at the Jaffa Gate. Are you there Nev?

(Nev) Yes Karen and the soldiers are just at this moment marching up the slope to the Jaffa Gate - and what a sight they are. Pilate is leading them in on a massive white stallion and the scene is accompanied by the clanking of armour and the sun shining on the spears and shields. It`s quite an impressive sight. There`s a small crowd here to see the event, and it is a silent and sullen crowd. No love lost here. (Exclamation)That was close! One of the children picked up a stone to throw it, and his mother got to him just in time. If he had thrown that stone he would have been run through with a sword, such is the tension here at this time. What a start that would have been to Passover! They are through the gates now and moving towards the Citadel where Pilate stays when he is here. The small crowd is now starting to disperse and - just a moment - a guy has run from the Lion gate and he says that something is going on down there. Can you hold the fort while I get down there.

(Karen) Yes, fine. It will give me a chance to describe the gates to our audience. . . . .

And now back to Nev. He should be coming close to the Lion Gate by now. Are you there Nev?

(Nev) Almost. I`m in the Via Dolorosa at the moment approaching the gate and there are quite a few people on the road who must have heard about it. Through the gate now. Going now down the hill leading up to the gate and now past the Garden of Gethsemene to that path that leads up the Mount of Olives and over the hill to Bethany. Evidently this guy`s name is Jesus and he has been staying with his friends in Bethany. And he sees himself as some kind of universal prophet. There is a medium sized crowd waiting here, and it looks as if I`m just in time. The crowd is starting to cheer and calling out hallelujah. He will be around the corner in a moment.

Good Lord, he`s riding a donkey! And a very small one at that. No prancing stallion here. A donkey! The transport of the peasant class. But there is no mistaking what he is about. People around him are waving palms - the symbol of victory. Where they got them from I don`t know. They certainly aren`t native to Jerusalem. This march bears all the signs of being very well prepared and with deliberate intent. The crowd are proclaiming Jesus as a new leader, and a peaceful one at that. And he`s getting a good reception from the crowd. Some of them are starting to break branches off the Olive Trees and placing them on the path before him. Some of them are even taking off their cloaks and laying them in front of him. Wow! This is interesting stuff.

(Karen) What`s your assessment of it Nev?

(Nev) I don`t know. Two people ride into Jerusalem on the same day, one on a war horse, one on a donkey. This entry of Jesus into Jerusalem has all the signs of a revolt but no one is carrying any arms. I think the palms are the give away - a symbol of victory. It looks to me like the beginning of a non violent revolution. And one thing is sure. The Romans aren`t going to like it. This is a take off of Pilate`s march into the city. It is a throwing down of the gauntlet to the social structure as we know it. I have the feeling that this is going to be a Passover to be remembered.

I wonder where he`s going to? We have now gone through the Lion gate into the city. It will be interesting to see where he goes. Uh-oh he`s taken the road on the left that leads to the temple. Surely he`s not going to take them on also. No, It looks as if he`s not going to do anything, today at least. What will happen tomorrow, I don`t know. He seemed pretty upset by the guys selling the doves for exorbitant prices. I think the guy is sussing the place out and I wouldn`t be a bit surprised if there is a demonstration here tomorrow.

The crowd is dispersing now and with a group of his friends this guy Jesus is returning to Bethany. Just hang on a minute and I will see if I can find out a bit more about him from one of his disciples.

(Karen) And while Nev`s doing that may I remind our listeners that at 9pm tonight we will be re-broadcasting the High Priests` message to the faithful. And Nev`s back on the line again.

(Nev) Yep. I was right, this guy knows exactly what he is on about. Evidently about a week ago he spent time with some of his disciples in Caesarea Phillipi in the north when some of them acknowledged him as the long promised leader of the Jews, and he told them that the time had come to confront the authorities. They set out for Jerusalem and on the way he must have had some lingering doubts and went up Mt Tabor where he became convinced that he was on the right line and that Moses and Elijah would agree with what he was doing. He arrived in Jerusalem a few days ago and has been with friends at Bethany where he disclosed that he was going to take on the State and the Temple and that he was fully aware of the risk. What a day Karen! What a way to begin the Passover festival. It will be very fascinating to see how the whole thing works out.

(Karen) It will indeed Nev. And now back to our regular programme ...

KAREN CONTINUES WITH A COMMENT: We have heard from our man Nev about Jesus and the events of Palm Sunday. Jesus riding on a donkey through one gate into Jerusalem, while Pilate rides on a stallion through a different gate. As Nev said, two different parades, two different ways of seeing life.

Bill Loader has been leading us through a series of Lenten reflections on the gospel of Matthew this year. However last year`s Lenten talks were in some way the best he has presented. They were entitled Myths on the Margins. Myths on the margins of our understanding of God, and particularly Jesus. For a progressive, liberal Christian, this is manna from heaven, so to speak. For we have to understand our traditions in context.

One myth was this, that Jesus would somehow fulfil Jewish expectation of a messiah, a rescuer, when magically he would make things better for the Hebrew people with his power and might. It was an understanding steeped in ancient beliefs, an expectation that here was the new dawning found within this one man.

Yet Jesus clearly was not that sort of messiah. His teachings, mission and life reflected that reality. As Rev Dawn Hutchinson highlights, his messiahship was almost a non-event, for Jesus iinsisted on the wisdom of peace through justice rather than war, generosity over greed, selflessness over selfishness, mercy over vengeance, hope over fear, and above all love over hate. He was not the messiah those around Jerusalem expected that day. They wanted someone to take control. Jesus was something else entirely, someone completely different. In fact, even the disciples had trouble understanding who Jesus was.

So people were confused. Yet as we heard reported earlier, there were two parades that day, at opposite ends of Jerusalem, and if anyone was confused at the beginning of the day, they wouldn`t be at the end. Jesus was clearly making a statement.

So how do we make sense of the varied gospel accounts, written well after the event; particularly when we still find some references to the Hebrew scriptures, mainly from Zechariah, in the accounts. Perhaps they are still holding on to the idea that Jesus was their longed for Messiah after all. Yet when we examine the synoptic gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, we also hear the revolutionary Jesus, the Jesus of peace and nonviolence coming through. In Mark the procession is well planned and he spends a lot of time telling his audience about the preparations. This was not just a spontaneous act, but an intentionally political act, contrasting the kingdom of Rome to the dominion of God. This thread is seen throughout Matthew, Mark and Luke. All three do not include people waving palm branches before Jesus, as they knew that waving palms is what people did for emperors, for those who sat in the seat of power. Only John has palms. When Pilate entered the Jaffa gate he was showcasing his power and military might, and the might of Rome, palms or not. Get in the way and you will be crushed. Instead of power and might Jesus enters the Lions gate, down from the Garden of Gethsemane, with people waving olive branches brought from the countryside. A different gate and a different parade. One stressing nonviolence and love. And justice and inclusion for the poor and marginalized. And forgiveness and peace.

So while the details change and the story is imbedded with references from the Jewish scriptures, there is a truth that is breathtaking to behold. Rome or God. As Nev reported, this man called Jesus was going to change things, but not in the way people might have thought.

So what do we do with Palm Sunday today?

The message is clear. The throne of power was a throne upon which Jesus would never sit, because that is not where hope is engendered. Hope and justice, oddly enough, are not achieved from the top down but from the bottom up. They are achieved from people like those in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and from people like us today. For while we live in the 21st century, not the first, we have the same choices to make. We, ordinary people, leading ordinary lives can make a difference.

As Margaret mead says ..
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it`s the only thing that ever has.

People like us today.

How do we hold on to this idea that Jesus shows us a different way, an alternative way of living? One that is transforming ourselves and for others. How do we hold on to his teachings? Perhaps it`s like being in the stream or river, realising this is my home, this is where I belong, this is who I am a part of. Jesus is reflecting the God of the universe, found within all of us, and calling all of us to participate. That we have to be part of that way. Jesus reveals a truth to us, if we listen and join in. A divine ancient truth that has nothing to do with messiahs and kings or power and might, but about love.

As Rev Dawn Hutchinson also writes, this is why a story of a prophet riding a donkey into the centre of power of his time has such resonance in our time. Those disciples are the plethora of individuals who have heard the good news preached in their midst and whose very souls responded `Yes.` Those are the individual hearts who in the presence of Jesus had, and have, a sudden vision of how radically different his Way is from that of the dominant culture and who respond `Yes.` Those are the disciples who from the ordinariness of their everyday lives, just as they were, took the coats off their backs to say `Yes` to Jesus. In the midst of debates on refugees and social welfare cuts there is hope. In the midst of terrorists or murdering for justice or dictators killing for control there is a Way. In the midst of our homeless neighbours there are coats we throw before them. This is the alternative way of living and loving we do in his name.

We are about to embark on the journey to Easter. For Jesus a time of standing up, knowing what the dangers are, and for us, a time to reflect and examine our own path.

In Jesus we see a way forward both for ourselves and for our world but we have to choose. Which gate are we prepared to go through? Which parade are we going to participate in? Are we going to choose the way of love or be tempted by Rome? And keep choosing it, day after day, week after week.

A dangerous question - but one which we are obliged to answer if we are to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Amen.


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