“This hour of history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless cavalries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism.”1 These words from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the book Strength to Love were written in 1963, but they could have been written today.
This hour of history has great need.
And so many of us feel the weight of this time. On Thursday morning after another crazy Colorado storm, faith leaders of a wide variety from all over Boulder County gathered around one of our large long wooden tables in the Fellowship Hall to plan an action next month. I started our time with reflections from this book Strength to Love where Dr. King wrestles with the dynamic between tough-minded and tenderhearted. He says both are required. King writes, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” This hour of history has great need.
Three historic Black churches in the heart of south central Louisiana's Cajun and Creole country were set on fire over the course of ten days. St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre burned on March 26, followed by Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and, two days later, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church burned nearby.
As the suspect was caught - a young white man, who happens to be the son of a Sheriff Deputy, it felt like hate is lighting the world on fire.
As families fleeing mass murder and violence continue to show up at our Southern Borders, I wonder if fear has found its way to policy.
As Uber prepares for an initial public offering where a small group of people will become extremely rich, while drivers barely get by, I wonder if greed has been formed into law.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we remain at two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, so as scholars from around the world remind us we are in a dangerous moment with nuclear weapons, I wonder if a lust for power has corrupted.
It feels like we are living in a time when a few have decided that it's their way or else and they are taking all of us down. This hour of history has great need.
It feels as if those with power and prowess have flat out determined that some lives simply matter more than others.
Because we look around and I see whose voice is ignored. We see whose bodies get access to the best medical care and the best organic produce. We see that public offerings, don’t quite make it to the public. Right now an oil lobbyist runs the Department of Interior and a coal lobbyist runs the Environmental Protection Agency and a former pharmaceutical executive runs the Department of Health and Human Services and a former Goldman Sachs Executive runs the Treasury…I could go on…
It feels like hate and violence and greed and money are winning…
And as we follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, we ask how are we to respond?
This story that Christian tradition calls Palm Sunday for the Palms placed on the road on Jesus journey to Jerusalem is a turning point. After Jesus leaves the house filled with reminders of death, of his friend Lazarus who was raised and of his own impending death, as we explored last week, he sleeps through the night and then makes get on his way. Knowing what we know so far, we wonder, how will he respond?
In Luke’s version of the story Jesus seems to walk some of it alone, but here in John, immediately there is a crowd and they rush to meet him.
Hosanna! “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!”
Hosanna! “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the crowd shouts. Hosanna (Latin osanna, Greek ὡσαννά, hōsanná) is from Hebrew הושיעה־נא, הושיעה נא hôšîʿâ-nā אושענא (ʾōshaʿnā) "save, rescue”
This would have been a reference to a Psalm that the faithful would have known. Psalms were used in public worship and prayer- Hosanna! The King James version of Psalm 118:25 reads, “Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.”
And the version found in the New Revised Standard Version says, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!”
The big crowd is singing out save us! Give us prosperity! Give us success! And in response…. Jesus finds a donkey.
In Western mythology we think of the donkey as sedate and blockish or as Chesterton suggests of the donkey, “I am dumb, I keep my secret still.” But as Stephen Broyles writes, “when we turn to the Hebrew literature, we do not find such jokes about the donkey. Rather the animal is known for its strength and its loyalty to its master (Genesis 49:14; Numbers 22:30)…. The donkey, not the horse, was ordinarily used for riding. (It was ridden with a saddle and often with a bit) (Numbers 22:21; Proverbs 26:3). It was ridden by all classes of people: by Abraham, by Balaam the seer from Mesopotamia, by women and children, and by King David’s household (Genesis 22:3; Numbers 22:21; Exodus 4:20; 2 Samuel 16:2).”2
The donkey was for all people.
On the way to Jeru-Shalem, City of Peace, Jesus would find that war awaited him; and still he road on. Knowing what we know, we wonder, how will he respond?
Because I am guessing that just like this time, in Jesus’ time it was an hour of history of great need. I am guessing that just like now, it felt like hate was lighting the world on fire, I’m guessing it felt like fear had found its way to policy, that greed had been formed into law, that a lust for power had corrupted.
In the book The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan reconstruct the story by contrasting the image of Jesus’ procession and pronouncement of the power of God, with Pilate’s pronouncement of the power of Empire. One has a donkey, one has a war-horse.
As Borg and Crossan write, this conflict Jesus was about to encounter, this “protest was against a domination system legitimated in the name of God, a domination system radically different from what the already present and coming kingdom of God, the dream of God, would be like.”
On a donkey for all people, he rode in protest of the evil Empire.
And I believe it was all with intention. It was no accident that he did it that way. This was part of his radical response. We must pay attention.
Jesus was doing just what Dr. King spoke of- he was being creatively maladjusted to the powers that would soon bring him down and in that present moment, he was making a point of saying what he was about, even without words. He chose the donkey. He found what agency was there to protest the domination system all around him. He chose to be among the “nonconforming minority” in spite of the consequences that were coming.
When he was told that it was the warhorse that would win, he said no. When he was told that might was a sign of God’s favor, he said no.
Jesus wanted to stop the hate- to end the fear, to heal with a tough mind and a tender heart, to stop the cycle domination and the plant the seeds for a Kin-dom of peace.
He was living what Dr. King wrote about when he said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”3
Some days it feels like hate and violence and greed and money are winning… But if we look around, a third way is guaranteed to be found. Even when it seems impossible to participate in the world God wants, even when it feels as if all we can do is be a part of the system of domination, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
So how are we to respond against this system of despair and domination?
This hour of history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists! Salvation is creativity, maladjustment is resistance. I also think what all of us need is discipline. We need strength to stick to what we are called to do, in spite of what we are told to do. Because the warhorse will always be waiting. Instead, let us look for the donkey. Let us dare to live our values even beyond words. As Dr. King wrote, “saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” We are tough-minded and tenderhearted. Hosanna! Save us! May it be so. Amen.
1 Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963
3 Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.