New Testament scholars John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have suggested that, on that first “Palm Sunday” there were two processions (parades) entering the holy city of Jerusalem. From the east, the familiar “peasants’ parade” with Jesus sitting atop a donkey and crowds of his supporters cheering him on the way as he brought his message of the reign of God right into the heart of the religious and political establishment.
From the west, this reading goes, a military procession (parade) approaches led by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate at the head of an army regiment complete with leather helmets, spears and swords, and an eagle atop the lead lance. Always conscious that large public celebrations like the Passover festival could erupt into violence and protest against the occupying Roman authority, it made sense to boost the number of available troops just in case, and to make a show of their entrance to discourage any disruptive activity.
Whether this reading of the story is is poetry or history, there is no doubt in my mind that the Palm Sunday entry set up an inevitable clash between the kingship of Caesar and the kingship of God and that Jesus knew precisely what he was doing in every detail. He chose to ride into town on a donkey symbolically identifying himself with the Messiah hoped for by the prophet Zechariah:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Sing aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9:9)
This was the kind of “enacted parable” made famous by prophets like Jeremiah who regularly provided such “visual aids” to underscore the message they believed they were to deliver from God to the people. If there was ever any doubt that Jesus considered himself as the Messiah, the anointed one of God chosen to bring freedom and peace to his people, this action alone should serve to put that doubt to rest.
He knew what he was doing. And his question to the crowds was, “Which parade do you want to be in — Caesar’s or God’s?”
Two thousand years later, the question remains: “Which parade do you want to be in — Caesar’s or God’s?
Remember that question on election day.