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We have difficulty understanding Jesus as pacifist

 

03/09/2016

This editorial by Andrew Britz, OSB, titled “Miming the Lord’s entry,” is from the April 6, 1986, Prairie Messenger and is featured in his second volume of editorials, Rule of Faith: as we worship, so we believe, so we live.

Seldom is miming used in the liturgy. Usually the events of the Lord’s saving action on our behalf are celebrated in symbol, in sacrament. But with the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem miming was so extensively used that churches would even import palms to make real the procession on Passion Sunday.

And yet it is unlikely that any event in the Lord’s life is so poorly understood by the churches as his entry into the Holy City on an ass.

Every evangelist goes out of his way to interpret this action as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah. So concerned is Matthew that he has the Lord with two asses, just as in the corrupt Old Testament text Matthew had at his disposal.

We must look carefully at the text from Zechariah if we are truly to appreciate Jesus’ action. First of all, riding on an ass is not an act of humility; it is, rather, a strong polemical act against achieving power by means of war.

The horse with chariot was at that time the great sign of power. The king of peace, the Messiah of true righteousness, proclaimed Zechariah, would banish all chariots and horses and bows of war.

Jesus entered Jerusalem as a pacifist. And he didn’t impress many of his contemporaries. The sharply dressed Roman soldier on a horse they could understand. They would no more appreciate Jesus’ entry on an ass than most people today treasure an American bishop who refuses to pay that portion of his taxes used for militarization.

We are so used to philosophical arguments about just wars that we find it exceedingly difficult to recognize Jesus as a pacifist. It is easier to mime his entry into Jerusalem than to accept its meaning.

To accept its meaning would make Christians quite uncomfortable in Canada. The fact that Canada is one of the world’s leaders in arms production would have to mean something. We would have to question the shipping of weapons to Saudi Arabia, to give one recent example.

What power do we recognize? What type of power do we see as legitimate for the organization of the church? Are we, even as church, more dazzled by the political and military power of the Roman centurion on his steed than by the power of the cross of one comfortable on an ass?