Bumper stickers are often just unsolicited opinions or unwanted information. If we were just walking through the mall we wouldn’t yell these things out in people’s faces as we passed them.
“I have 4 kids and a dog!”
“I’m a swimmer!”
“I love guns!”
“Don’t tread on me.”
But, for some reason, in our cars, we feel enough separation to stick those symbols of our lives and conclusions right where everyone can (has to) see them. They say something about our identity and we want to be known. Whether we put them on our car or not, we all have symbols with which we identify.
Two-thousand men were crucified by the Roman general, Varus in 4 B.C.E.1 The cross was not just punishment, it was used as an act of terrorism. Tens of thousands of people were enslaved, cities burned, regions utterly destroyed by Rome as they conquered and ruled. Jesus arrived in a world leveled with trauma, political rebellion, and devastating punishment. The rumor of an arriving king being met with the mass murder of children at the hands of a threatened ruler depicted the status quo of violence of that time.
This dominance was gratuitously celebrated by the Romans. Their victory parades were magnificent spectacles, with moving stages four stories high depicting the episodes of their recent victory with pictures of slaughtered enemies and incinerated towns. They drug the finest specimens from the enemy’s army into the streets and executed their rulers for all the people to see. It was a Macy’s Day parade of violence.1
It is against this backdrop that Jesus rides into town on a donkey cheered on by peasants. It is like driving a Chevette down Wallstreet or wearing hand-me-downs on the red carpet. Laughable, weak and non-threatening really. He was turning Roman symbolism on its head. When he reached the end of the parade route, he marched right into the Temple and turned over the tables of Jewish the symbolism. The temple was the center of their society. It was not only a place of religious worship, it was at the center of their economy and government. Jesus was not mad because someone was selling Girls scout cookies at church. He was pronouncing judgment on what the heart of their society had become.
We must be willing to ask ourselves what he would do to our symbols. If he were to hold an Inauguration in Washington surrounded by a smattering of homeless people, from there where would he go? What would he say on the steps of the Capitol Building? Would he disrupt trading on Wallstreet? What “tables” would he overturn in our churches?
The symbols of American society are too often the dollar sign, golden statues named Oscar and the shape of a Pentagon. As Jesus parades through the crowd cheering for a King that they expected to bring violence down on the heads of the violent, he mourned for them and the destruction they were bringing upon themselves. “If they, on that day, would have only known what would bring them peace.”2 But, the trajectory of their society left them unable to see the road of peace.
I am not naïve about the complexity of foreign policy, national security or even that of each of our individual lives. I would be skeptical of anyone who claims to have definitive answers. But, I propose that in order to get to the best answer, we must start with the right question. Maybe, that question is “What makes for peace?”
At that moment in history, as Jesus rode his borrowed donkey through the streets, Israel was not asking that question. They believed they had the answer. They believed that peace would only come when God crushed the occupying nation of Rome and returned Israel to its rightful place as a sovereign and fearsome nation who alone were the children of God. When the Messiah came and led the people in a successful revolt of military prowess backed by the Name of God, then there would be peace.
But, the Messiah did not roll into town in a tank. The Messiah rode into town on a donkey under the banners of humility and reconciliation instead of parading the spoils of violence.
As you wrestle with the confusion of our world and the desires of your own psyche, the question lingers. What makes for peace?
1Jesus and the Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New Disorder Richard A. Horsley
2 Luke 19:42
3 Luke 19:43-44