Sermon for Passion/Palm Sunday (5 April 2009)
Good morning! I’m Jephthah, a businessman here in Jerusalem. I import spices and perfumes like frankincense and nard from the east, and ceramics and jewellery from the west. Business is very good—and it’s largely because of the Romans. They’ve built straight roads, good roads, easy to travel roads, roads that make it quick and safe to transport my goods.
The other day my cousin Reuben suggested we take the morning off to see the procession, and I thought, Why not? Reuben lives out in Bethany; I don’t see him that often, and I’d just taken a shipment of spices. Nothing was coming in for a few days.
I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to see the procession though; he’s not like me, he doesn’t see why we need the Romans here. He actually wants to get rid of them! How can he and his friends do that, I wonder—a few ruffians with daggers, the odd soldier bumped off, and what happens then? Even more people die on crosses! And sometimes the wrong ones are crucified. My old friend Caleb was arrested and crucified last year for insurrection. But the poor man was innocent! I do what I can for his widow and kids. They won’t starve. The Romans call it ‘collateral damage’.
Anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t sure why Reuben wanted to go. I asked him if he was going to make any trouble, and he looked at me as though I was mad. That’s not like Reuben, I thought. Maybe he’s got some sense at last.
So I went to the western gate of the city and waited. At first I thought Reuben was just late, but he never showed.
The procession was really impressive! Pilate looked splendid, so splendid he could have been Caesar himself! And the soldiers in their leather armour and the clatter of their swords and the stamp! stamp! stamp! of their feet! And the horses, and the battle standards, and…
What’s that? You thought I was going to be at Jesus’ procession? Well isn’t that a funny thing, because that’s just where Reuben was. It was that procession he was inviting me to!
What did you say? You’ve never heard of Pilate’s procession? You’re not from around here, are you? I mean, everyone knows that the procession is the Roman procession! Every major feast, Pilate comes in from Caesarea Maritima, where he lives, and stays in Jerusalem. Just in case of trouble. I mean, the population of Jerusalem is normally around 40 000. But we can have another 200 000 in pilgrims and visitors at Passover. Normally, I like that—they buy gifts to take home, and I make money. But this time, it looks like there may be some trouble. And that’s bad for business.
They say this Jesus rode in on a young donkey as a sign of bringing peace—it was Reuben’s donkey, as it turns out—but to me he sounds like a right trouble maker. Imagine staging his poxy little procession for the ragamuffins and the ne’er-do-wells on the same day as Pilate’s procession! That was just calculated to provoke Rome. It really is hard to avoid the conclusion that Jesus was taking the mickey out of the Romans in a kind of counter-procession.