In my last post (“STAND DOWN, CHRISTIAN!”) I brought a correction to anyone who would even consider taking up arms, joining a militia alongside crazy so-called “patriots,” poised to violently overthrow fellow Americans whose politics are different than theirs. I called out at least one “false prophet” who preaches violence and calls for an American civil war. I consider this blasphemous. Let me tell you why.
“When God wants to change the world,” says theologian N.T. Wright, “God doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek.” And in the tradition of Jesus (not to mention other nonviolent activists such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Bishop Tutu), Brian Zahnd says, “Ultimately we cannot eliminate enemies through violence—violence only multiplies enemies. The only way to eliminate enemies is to love them, forgive them.”
Speaking of Zahnd, I highly recommend his book called, “Postcards From Babylon,” in which he demonstrates a stark contrast of agendas and modus oprandi between Jesus and Pilate during their coinciding entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It’s such an excellent picture of the Jesus way versus arming ourselves for war against our own citizens. Please allow me to share some excerpts of the book along with some of my own observations.
Zahnd points out that on that first day of Passion Week we see two parades arriving in Jerusalem, one from the west and the other from the east. One featured Caesar’s intimidating Governor atop a proud and snorting warhorse and the other was God’s humble Servant King, riding a juvenile donkey.
“One is a military parade projecting the power of empire — the Roman Empire. The other is a prophetic parade announcing the arrival of an alternative empire — the kingdom of God. One parade derives its power from a willingness to crucify its enemies. The other derives its power by embracing the cross and forgiving its enemies.”
We’re told that Jesus’ posse, an assortment of fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots were afraid as he led them toward Jerusalem. Who could blame them? They were outnumbered and out gunned with only two swords among them. This was a showdown between unequal parties. Pilate had armed soldiers dressed for battle and the disciples had two swords and a Savior. They were marching into the teeth of the capital city following their Galilean prophet who was about to announce his kingship. All but Jesus were shaking in their sandals.
It was Passover and faithful Jews came from all over the place to celebrate their forefathers’ liberation from a foreign empire. As patriotism was at a high peak and revolts were commonplace, the Romans were poised to put down any uprising. “If America was occupied by a foreign power,” suggests Zahnd, “we could assume that the Fourth of July would be a day when civil unrest would be expected.”
As a show of force the governor arrived in military parade from his palace in the west riding his steed, thereby intimidating anyone intending to revolt. “Military parades, then and now, are used by empires to demonstrate that they rule the world through their superior capacity to wage war.”
That same day, Jesus arrived from the east with his twelve apprentices and a crowd of unarmed Passover pilgrims––not the army one would choose to take down an empire.
The contrast was striking. Coming from opposite directions in the opposite spirit, one riding an imposing warhorse, with a silver studded saddle, the other on a donkey’s colt, not an even full-grown donkey. “We can picture the ridiculous sight as Jesus rides a donkey so small that his feet drag the ground!”
What was Jesus thinking? Why would he set up such a contrast between him and Pilate? Were his ride and his parade all he could afford or was he trying to say something about the difference between his heavenly kingdom come to earth and an earthly kingdom posing as a heavenly one?
By this prophetic performance he demonstrated how his was a kingship of humility, an anti-intimidating, anti-violent, anti-empire kingship. In a way he was mocking Pilate’s intimidating show of power. “Imagine a mock military parade where peace protestors are riding tricycles instead of tanks and you get the idea.”
Many Christians today are drawn to dominance and power. They’re impressed by leaders who promise to protect them from their enemies. “They’re looking for a general on a warhorse who holds the reins in one hand and a sword in the other. Jesus is not that. Jesus is riding a donkey and the only weapons his disciples have are palm branches.”
He’s spelling it out for us. Join a militia to protect what’s yours? Are you joking? Take up a sword to fight against your own brothers and sisters for fear that they’ll eventually take what’s yours? If you do that, you pledge allegiance to Pilate’s parade. You can’t be in both Jesus’ and Pilate’s parade at the same time.
Jesus said on that very occasion, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes!” (Luke 19:42) If peace is what you want, he’s saying, you’ll only find it marching alongside the Son of God on a too-small donkey. Get a gun and join a militia and you’re marching in the parade that will never end in peace. And worst of all like most of the Jerusalemites, you’ll miss the Messiah who rides in on a donkey.
So, which entourage will you join––the one that features an earthly show of power and trusts in violence to advance its agenda or the other that celebrates the Prince of Peace and trusts in his way to actually improve the world?
Heads up: If you choose the humble, non-violent way of Jesus those marching in Pilate’s parade will make mock you as they pass by going the other way. After all, they have their horses, uniforms, and weapons to your diminutive donkey and a motley assortment of palm branch-waving pilgrims. Beware of requiring their approval, for then you’ll be susceptible to compromise to their way of protecting what you think is yours. “Bless are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”
Something colossal happened when our King chose a donkey over a warhorse for his coronation parade and offers us an alternative to the use of force to advance his agenda. Our prayers no longer plead for him to join our side, bless our sniper rifles, and help us to win the battle with opposing forces using any means necessary.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God!” (Psalm 20:7)
Will you be in step with Pilate or Jesus?
Make no mistake, if you march with Pilate you will surely sacrifice slice after slice of your soul. If you choose even the threat of violence you march with Pilate and against Jesus. If you select an arsenal that harms humans over spiritual weapons that liberate them, you fall for Satan’s scheme––you’re a pawn and no patriot.
With whom will you march?