What Should I Do With Jesus?
No one could remember who started the chant. Later, some people said it was one of the Galilean women, in town for Pasha, the old women, who rock back and forth when they pray, in ancient dance with the Spirit. Others said it was one of the Zealots, their hands resting on their hidden daggers, daring the Romans or the Temple police to interrupt. Others said it was one of his, maybe the one who betrayed him, stirring up the crowd with a shout of insurrection.
But whoever started it, the crowd began to repeat it, until it became a deep rumble, an earthquake, a roaring of the sea. “Hosanna!” they cried in unison, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”
They clapped as they chanted, and people began to lay down their cloaks, and covered the Roman bricks with palm branches. “Hosanna!” they stomped. “Blessed!” they cheered. “The one who comes in the name of Yahweh!” they shouted.
He sat awkwardly, sidesaddle, to keep his feet from dragging on the ground. The little donkey’s ears pricked and her eyes darted back and forth among the crowd as they pressed in to touch him. He squeezed their hands as he passed, and kissed the infants they held out to him. He was smiling. His eyes went up to the top of the wall. On one side, a garrison of Romans stood. On the other, the Temple police. Each group glowered at the spectacle on the road.
It took him a long time to pick his way slowly through the throbbing crowd, through the cheers, the songs, the chants, the incense of revolution rising to mix with the smoke ascending from the Temple chimney.
He stopped finally at the gate to the Temple and dismounted. The entire city, it seemed had turned out to see him. His men looked at each other, swords at the ready. The time had come.
Of course, the story doesn’t end the way it starts, in triumph. It ends in tragedy. A young man, who had called his people to live a new life of freedom, apart from the crushing boots of Empire or the smothering cloak of Religion, hanged as a traitor, a rebel, an enemy of God and the State.
In the end, there would not be a crowd that called for a new King on David’s throne, but a crowd who demanded blood, vengeance, and the swift, justiceless peace that dictators so crave. For in every revolution, there are those who prefer slavery to revolt, order to freedom, quiet to justice. In every revolution, there are those who side with power, who would crush dreams and silence hope. And the revolution proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth was no exception.
For, this preacher of Nazareth, this son of a carpenter, this man of the people, had come preaching the end of the status quo. He had proclaimed the equality of women, the empowerment of the poor and the re-ordering of the social system. He urged people to abandon tribe and tradition and follow him into a new world, where the Kingdom of God was not some prophet’s sweaty night-time fantasy, but a living, breathing reality in the here and now.
And for that vision, he was executed.
We’ve often heard that the crowd of the Triumphal Entry was the same as the crowd outside Pilate’s palace. But the record does not say that. Nor does the reality of revolution support it. One has only to watch the unfolding revolt in one dictatorship after another these past few months to grasp how the two crowds exist in the same places at the same time, each with a competing and irreconcilable vision for their nation. Will it have the order of military power or the messy volatility of freedom? Will it end in joyful celebration or in a puddle of blood? Which crowd will win? It all depends on what future the people really want.
When asked: “What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” the crowd outside Pilate’s palace opted for Caiaphas’ compromise with power that one man should die, rather than risk the vengeance of the Empire. They regained the peace, temporarily, but in a few short years, the false peace of compromise would perish in the unquenchable fire of the Roman legions.
I wonder which side we would be on. Would we have believed that the the Day of Salvation had dawned or that peace at the expense of justice should be maintained? Would we have been ready to die with him or would we have called for his blood to be on us and on our children? Would we have stood with him at his trial, or denied we even knew his name?
Which crowd would we have been in that day? Which chant would we have shouted to the highest heaven?
For though two thousand years have passed since that fateful week, the question remains the same: What shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Messiah?