Palm Sunday Ethics, Part 2 of On the Foal of a Donkey

Palm Sunday Ethics, Part 2 of On the Foal of a Donkey March 29, 2023

palm sunday


As we read from Matthew this week for Palm Sunday, I’ve chosen to use the word “Sovereign” instead of “Lord.” Words matter, and too often today when Christians read the word “Lord,” they read it as a purely religious term. But when the gospels were written, it was a much more political term. There are political implications in our passage, not simply religious ones. 

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

Jesus was contrasting fidelity to the God of the Torah, the people’s Sovereign, with the elites’ complicity with the Roman empire and their chasing Caesar as their sovereign. Although this complicity with Roman imperialism brought great benefit to the elites in Jesus’ society, it did immeasurable damage to rural agricultural farming families as well as the urban poor and working classes. The benefit to the few and powerful came at the expense of the masses. Jesus offered another way for his society to function, to care for the marginalized and practice a preferential option for those who being most harmed. 

I believe that using the term sovereign in our passage highlights the contrasts between the politics of Jesus and the politics of Rome. The synoptic gospels called people to make a choice between whom they’d embrace as their Sovereign: the God of the Torah as Jesus presented Him, or Caesar.

Today we could make similar comparisons, but it’s worth a word of caution here. It’s not enough to simply say something like “Jesus versus America.” That language is very popular among some Christians but it doesn’t go far enough and risks making both America and Jesus in our own image. If your Jesus is compassionate and just, that might not seem too bad. But simply trying to affirm your own prejudices and bigotries isn’t enough. 

We need to contrast the ethics and values we read in the Jesus story with the political, social and economic options we have before us today. Our work must then go deeper. We must compare Jesus’ ethics of compassion, resource-sharing, wealth redistribution, egalitarianism, nonviolence, universal love, and more with the rule of the wealthy and privileged, authoritarianism, and the economics of capitalism, socialism, democratic socialism, and others prevalent in our world.

Current interpretations of Psalm 118 and Jesus’ death at the end of Holy Week are curious, too.  We’ll consider these, next.

(Read Part 3)

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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