“Beguiled by Beauty: From Beauty to Compassion and Justice”

Isaiah 52: 1 – 7; Mark 11: 1 – 11Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

I once had a professor read today’s scripture passage to the class aloud and invite us to imagine ourselves in this story.  “With whom do you identify?” she asked.  Some people imagined themselves as Jesus riding into town on a donkey; others imagined themselves as Jesus’ disciples proud of their fearless leader; and still others imagined themselves as part of the crowd waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna”.  The professor imagined herself as the donkey.  As the donkey, she said, she felt confused and scared – all of these people shouting loudly, all of these palm branches waving in her face, it was very irritating she said.  But then, sensing her distress, she felt the comforting hand of Jesus on her neck as he leaned over, and quietly whispered in her ear, “It’s going to be o.k.; it’s going to be o.k.”  And she, as the donkey, knew that this was a man of compassion, this was a man filled with love and she was willing to carry this man to the ends of the earth. The question for us on this Palm Sunday is, “Are we willing to carry the message of Jesus’ love, compassion, and justice to the ends of the earth?”

As we follow Jesus into Jerusalem, we begin this holiest of weeks, the eight days that changed the world. This entry to Jerusalem was the most political act of Jesus’s life. Jerusalem was not a peaceful, prosperous city. It was a city with a history of repeated invasion and attack. A city occupied by the greatest imperial power on earth, the Romans. A city where religious leaders elevated piety over the suffering of the poor. A city where the marginalized desperately cried out for change.

Over the years, many have called the Palm Sunday parade, a “protest march.” I believe, however, that Jesus is doing something more than just protesting. He is doing something more than just resisting the powers that be, he is re-imagining. If Jesus is to produce a new future, if he is to birth a new world, he needed to do more than resist. He had to reimagine the world as it could be.

When we look back through history, our greatest social reformers did more than resist oppressors. The held up a vision of the world as they dreamt it to be. Muhammed led it. Jesus taught it. Buddha envisioned it. Dorothy Day labored for it. King dreamt it. Mandela lived it. Gandhi died for it. They did not just unseat the powers to be, but they reimagined the institutions that order our world. Valerie Kaur, founder of the Revolutionary Love project, says, “To reimagine is to explore a vision of a relationship, a community, a world where all of us are safe and free. Where all of us flourish. Reimagining means that we’re doing more than resisting our opponents. Reimagining focuses us not just on what we are fighting against, but what we are fighting for. When we are brave enough to reimagine, we can begin to become the beloved community by birthing it here and now” (The People’s Inauguration).

Jesus reimagines a new world. He comes into Jerusalem humbly riding on a donkey, a symbol not of conquest, but of peace. Later in the week, he will rule not with a fist, but will serve with a towel. He will declare that the greatest among us must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. After washing his disciples’ feet, he will break bread and say, “Receive. Eat. This is my body broken for you.” This meal will celebrate a new model of aliveness – a model of service, of self-giving, of being blessed, broken, and given for the well-being of others. On Good Friday as he hangs on that cross, with a crown of thorns upon his head, he will not hurl curses upon the Romans below, but he will share the most remarkable words ever spoken, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He was betrayed, but he chose to love the betrayer.  He was forsaken, but he loved those who forsook him. He was mocked and he chose to love those who would mock him. He was scourged but he chose to love his scourgers. He was crucified and he loved his killers. In the face of excruciating injustice, cruelty and inhumanity, Jesus chose love. And, on resurrection morning, he will show us that life has the final word, that love truly wins! Jesus is not simply leading a protest march, he is not just resisting the powers that be, he is reimagining a new humanity for you and me.

As Jesus’s followers, we are called not simply to resist, but to re-imagine. How can we keep our hearts open during these most challenging of times? How can we stay courageous even when the temptation is to deny or flee? As we see beauty in others, we are moved to compassion and justice. And we begin to not only resist oppressive forces, we begin to re-imagine a new humanity where all are welcomed, loved, included, safe and free, where all are able to flourish.

In re-imagining, in creating a new humanity, we will be like those mentioned in Isaiah. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news— who announces peace, and brings news of happy things, and proclaims deliverance, saying to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Those who keep watch raise a cry, together they shout for joy— for they see with their own eyes YHWH’s restoration of Zion! Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For YHWH comforts the people, and redeems Jerusalem. Yahweh bears a holy arm in the sight of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.  

As you go forth to share good news, as you go forth to carry Jesus’s message of love, compassion, and justice, as you go forth to reimagine a new humanity, remember you have a unique role to play, because of who you are, where you are in the 21st century, and what you bring. You have an unmistakable magic that the world needs. Ahhh… how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. Let us go forth on this Palm Sunday to dance in the streets! Am