Palm to Palm, part 2

In this part, we'll look at two further matters in the Palm Sunday story: the acquisition of the colt, or donkey, and the bit about the stones shouting out.

So, what about that stolen colt (donkey)? Jesus sends his disciples off to fetch him a ride, telling them “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” It’s possible Jesus has made the consensual arrangements in advance to borrow the animal, though none of the Gospels suggests any such thing. To all appearances, they steal the colt.

We know this Jesus is not above crime. He acts illegally when he overturns the tables outside the temple. The Jewish and Christian scriptures include many examples of law-breaking for the sake of a higher justice.
“Moses also begins his leadership with crime, dispatching the Egyptian overseer to protect an enslaved person. Rahab begins her leadership with the crime of harboring fugitives. Daniel begins his leadership with the crime of refusing to eat the king’s diet. Esther commits the exact opposite of the king’s decree by appearing before him. Mary begins her leadership with the crime of getting pregnant by someone other than her betrothed.” (Casey Overton)
Property laws primarily protect the interests of the propertied. In many cases the wealth was acquired through injustice, and property law enshrines and preserves that injustice.

Jesus throws his lot in with the vulnerable, and declines to be constrained by laws that serve only the interests of the rich. Remember Anatole France’s ironic line. Writing in the 19th century, he said:
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal loaves of bread.” (The Red Lily, 1894)
Yes, the law is framed to be irrespective of class, but it’s written to forbid only what the downtrodden need to do. Casey Overton’s Palm Sunday reflection asks us:
“What would it mean if, instead of chastising rule-breakers among us, we press charges against the rules themselves which have made liberation untenable? What would it mean if we began to hallow not just the political prisoner but the disenfranchised dealer benefiting from an alternative economy and heterodox heretics and other revolutionaries who dare to hold the law in the lowest regard? So here’s to the misfits and miscreants. Here’s to all the people who break the rules because they know those rules break the people. May we reject the colonial category of the 'criminal' in governments as well as our interpersonal dealings with the 'outlaws' in our communities. May we begin to honor you misunderstood messengers for the wells of wisdom that you are. May our houses of worship be a refuge for you when the empire retaliates.”
I am not calling for lawlessness. I am calling for critical examiniation of how many of our laws really have anything to do with public safety. How much of our legal system is devoted to incarcerating the poor and people of color, while the wealthy whites who commit crimes that really do endanger public safety consistently do so with impunity?

Finally, in our exploration of the Palm Sunday story, let us consider those stones mentioned at the end of the passage. Jesus’ procession is evidently noisy. The disciples are being loud. Then, as Luke reports:
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’”
At one level, he’s saying this is a party that cannot be stopped. It’s also a reminder to us that the Earth bears witness. A story from another tradition tells of Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, being challenged: on what authority do you teach as you do? Gotama – the Buddha – simply reaches out and touches the ground. The Earth is his authority. The Earth bears witness. The stones shout out the story.

What story do the stones tell? The Hebrew Bible, too, includes references to the Earth itself, the stones, speaking for Justice. In the book of Habakkuk, one of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet cries:
“Alas for you who get evil gain for your house, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples. You have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” (Habakkuk 2: 9-11)
Today the Earth cries out the story of our desecration. Casey Overton says:
“In response to the colonizers’ disregard for consent, Earth has been in escalating protest against her ongoing enslavement and alienation from her indigenous caregivers. We can gratefully receive this passage as a reminder that the prophetic tradition includes conversation with the earth and concern for her perspective.”
And at yet another level, Jesus is telling us what we can hear if we get quiet. After the noisy party-revolution of which I spoke in part 1, the Palm Sunday story now invites us into a quiet time – a time of listening, of attending. "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out," says Jesus. That is, in the silence, the shouting of stones may be heard. We often do not hear them over the noise of our chatter – the chatter of our tongues or the chatter that goes on in our minds when our tongues are still.

If we quiet our minds from the preoccupations of ego, we can hear the stones speak. They are shouting their existence. They are shouting continuously the glory of creation of which they partake. We have to be silent to hear it. In the silence we hear the Earth and all her creatures – the abundance and profligacy of life, yet also the groaning of pain from the damage being done to the climate, the destruction of habitat, the loss of species diversity.

We are called to a revolution of liberation from all that oppresses and discriminates. It is not a revolution of soldiers in military hierarchy inflicting violence and death. What does this revolution look like? There is no single look.

It looks like hands reaching out to help, to provide for – hands connecting, palm to palm, in compassion. It looks like a party, a raucous celebration. And it looks like being very quiet and listening, listening.

This is the message of Palm Sunday. Amen.

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