The Nonviolent Palm Sunday and the Nonviolent Holy Week of 33 AD


As there are uses and abuses, by commission and omission, of history, theology, sociology, psychology, etc., in the service of ideology and politics, so also there are uses and abuses by commission and omission of religious liturgy for the same purposes. Just in case your Palm Sunday and Holy Week liturgies do not communicate it clearly, or just in case your priest, minister, bishop, preacher or pastor do not tell you it from the pulpit, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are 100% about the victorious and salvific Nonviolent Coming of God into His Nonviolent Kingdom through the Nonviolent Messiah Jesus.

The Palm Sunday narrative of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey is recorded in all four Gospels, which means it is highly probable that it is based on an historical event. But, Jesus has journeyed to Jerusalem on foot from Galilee, why then does He choose to complete His journey by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? There is no serious scholarly doubt that by this gesture He is symbolically referencing Himself and His mission to Zechariah 9:9–10. There is also no serious scholarly doubt that the Apostolic communities as evidenced by the Four Evangelists were well aware of this and understood its importance to the proper proclamation of the Gospel in general, and in particular to the center piece of the Gospel, the Passion Narrative. Zechariah 9:9–10 announces:

"Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion, shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! See now your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, Meek and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; The bow of war will be banished. he will proclaim peace for the nations. His kingdom shall stretch from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth."

It is as certain that the manner of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is meant to be a direct reference to this prophetic passage in Zechariah, as it is certain that Jesus' words on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?", are a direct reference to Psalm 22, which opens with these words. But look at the words of Zechariah 9:9–10: "meek," banishing "chariots and horses." Chariots and horses are the equivalent in Jesus' time of today's Stealth bombers and nuclear missiles: the maximal destructive technology of the hour. Again look at the words, this victorious king of Zechariah 9:9–10 will proclaim "peace" and his kingdom, which shall stretch "from the River (Jordan) to the ends of the earth," will be completely without arms, the instruments of human destruction, "the bow of war."

This unambiguous Nonviolent Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem is the beginning of the end of Jesus' journey of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies for the salvation of all people. Contrary to popular piety, it is not be merely a "via dolorosa," a way of suffering. Identification with Jesus suffering is identification with Jesus loving. His via dolorosa is a Way of suffering chosen in order to confront and conquer evil in a sin-drenched world, not suffering chosen for its own sake or for the sake of placating an unforgiving, "eye for eye," revengeful, terrorist deity. Jesus via dolorosa is the choice of the Way of nonviolent suffering love of friends and enemies made in order to embody and make visible God's Nonviolent Love for all – even for lethal enemies, e.g., the healing of the ear of the armed servant of the high priest who comes to Gethsemane to take Jesus to His death, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." The Nonviolent King, who enters Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9–10, ultimately receives the stature prophesied for Him when crowned with thorns by those He loves to the end, He mounts His throne – the Cross of Nonviolent Love – and has, by order of Pilate, the ruling Roman official of this kingdom of the world at the time, a sign written in three languages, placed above His head on His throne: "King of the Jews."

For the Nonviolent Jesus there is a direct route from His Sermon on the Mount, to His Nonviolent symbolic announcement of the Coming of the Reign of the Nonviolent God of Love on Palm Sunday, to His unequivocal incarnation of that God on Good Friday, to the incontestable validation of the reality, power and wisdom of that God on Easter Sunday. Take the Nonviolent Jesus of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies out of Palm Sunday, out of Good Friday, out of Easter Sunday and there is no Palm Sunday, no Good Friday, no Easter Sunday. Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies is integral to the very meaning and purpose of those days.

Take the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies of Jesus out of Holy Week and there is no Holy Week. There is no "Holy" in the week, because God, the Holy One, is love (agape). Without Jesus enfleshment of Divine Nonviolent Love toward all – friends and enemies, faithful followers and betrayers – there is just a week of unholy, diabolical brutality, violence, torture, cruelty, injustice, suffering and death. Why? Again, only God is Holy and God is agapeic love. Jesus, the Word (Logos) of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is the incarnation of Nonviolent Love toward all because God is Nonviolent Love toward all. The Father and Jesus are one, consubstantial. The person who sees Jesus sees the Father. Jesus comes to do the Father's will and only the Father's will. Starting on Palm Sunday, continuing through Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday, it is the Nonviolent Love of Jesus, God incarnate, that makes this week Holy – and I might add, makes it an efficacious moment in the long process of exposing and conquering evil.

If this were a week of remembering a Jesus entering Jerusalem in a warrior's chariot – surrounded with manned war horses and a legion of soldiers carrying the most advanced killing technology of the time and ready to immediately kill other human beings on Jesus' command – it would not be the beginning of a Holy Week. A Jesus telling Peter to "finish off" the armed servant of the high priest, after Peter slashes his ear off, would not make for a Holy Week. A week in which Jesus calls down from the cross curses and retribution on those who are killing Him would not be a Holy Week. A week that ends with a body corrupting in a tomb after a life of nonviolent love of friends and enemies would not be a Holy Week. It is the Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies enfleshed unto death in the now risen Jesus – the Word, the Way and the Truth of God who is love – that makes this week Holy.

The events and revelations of Holy Week unto the redemption and salvation of the world are events and revelations ineradicably united with the Nonviolent Jesus who taught and lived unto death and resurrection a Way of Nonviolent Love of friends and enemies! This is the Holy Week and Jesus of history, of the Gospel and of faith and therefore must be the Holy Week and Jesus of Liturgy and the pulpit. If this is not the Holy Week and Jesus proclaimed in Liturgy and from the pulpit during Holy Week – as well as during all other weeks until time is no more – then an abuse or misuse, culpable or non-culpable, of Liturgy and of pulpit is taking place.

March 15, 2008

Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy is a priest of the Eastern Rite (Byzantine-Melkite) of the Catholic Church. Formerly a lawyer and a university educator, he is the founder and the original director of The Program for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame. He is also co-founder, along with Dorothy Day and others of Pax Christi-USA. He has conducted retreats and spoken at conferences throughout the world on the issue of the relationship of faith and violence and the nonviolence of the Jesus. He was the keynote speaker at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee for the 25th anniversary memorial of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. there. He is author of several books, including these: All Things Flee Thee because Thou Fleest Me: A Cry to the Churches and their Leaders to Return to the Nonviolent Jesus and His Nonviolent Way; Christian Just War Theory: The logic of Deceit; August 9: The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love. He has also authored innumerable articles on the subject of violence, religion and the nonviolent love of friends and enemies taught by Jesus by word and deed. His audio/video series, BEHOLD THE LAMB, is almost universally considered to be the most spiritually profound presentation on the matter of Gospel Nonviolent Love available in this format. BEHOLD THE LAMB is now available on mp3CD through his website, either at the cost of $5.00 for a disc or it can be acquired directly by an mp3 downloaded from the website for no cost. Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work on behalf of peace within people and among people. He may be reached and his work may be accessed at the Center for Christian Non-Violence.

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