When Jesus entered Jerusalem, it must have excited and energized the crowds who welcomed him. Garments spread on the path, palm branches waving in the air, jubilant cries lifted to the heavens: “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Welcome, Jesus, long awaited Messiah of God and Israel!”
A number must have enthused, “It’s about time! We saw how he ran from the crowds who would have made him King after he fed them; we heard how he rebuked those who proclaimed his royal qualifications; our hearts burned with zeal as he cleared out the Temple; we wept when friends told us what happened on the mountain when he dazzled them and the Voice confirmed who He IS! Yes, this is long overdue; we have waited long enough. Now is the time, the day of our liberation. Now, the forces of heaven will muster and emboldened the faithful to join them. Now the invaders and occupiers will run for their lives, only to fall to their deaths. Now, He will summon thousands of heavenly warriors to wage the battle that brings us glory again, that settles us under our fig trees to bathe in the warmth of Shalom. Yes, now is the time!”
Of course, there were also strange and unsettling features of what unfolded, features that became ominous upon later reflection. Why the donkey? Why would He weep, if indeed those reports are accurate? Why were the authorities just watching and noting everything carefully? Why wasn’t there a rush of the faithful from within the city to join the throngs and go all the way to Palace or Temple? Why was it taking so long for the heavenly warriors to come?
Then quickly there came more disappointment of those very hopes. The demonstration ended when the Messiah arrived all the way into the City. The excitement it had generated soon ran its course, and Jesus retired from the city again to spend the night with friends, as he had before. In the days that followed there were confrontations with the teachers, debates over important issues, deepening tension between Messiah and the authorities, suspicious huddles here and there among the people who had challenged Messiah’s words and deeds but to no avail, and then just as Passover was beginning wild rumors of arrest, charges, trials, and mobs demanding “justice” for the blasphemies. Finally, utter dismay and shock to learn that Messiah had been condemned and sentenced, only to be beaten and stripped, herded through and then out of the city, stripped naked, nailed to a cross-beam and then dropped into the hole on the hill outside. In less than a week, another would-be Messiah had gone the way of all pretenders to the throne. God-forsaken, painfully panting, crying to the heavens, and dying. Apparently and shockingly, in short order, Messiah had been trumped by the brutal machinery of the governing authorities in the Temple and in the Palace, near and far. Indeed, far from the expected trumping, trouncing, and triumphing over the enemies and occupiers—the only one trumped was Messiah.
Apparently! Then, again, with this one who only slowly appeared to be Messiah, who only reluctantly acknowledged the title and then began to qualify it radically, who taught and acted like nobody expected or even wanted—with this one everything ended up “the other way around.” First becomes last. Great becomes humble. Master becomes servant. Foolish becomes wise and weakness power. So, could it extend to the inconceivable and impossible? Could dead, accepted out of love at the hands of hate, become something else? Could the trumping, trouncing and triumphing over this one turn the other way around, so that the trumpers are themselves trumped, the humiliated glorified, the defeated overcoming, and the crucified crowned? Could all the mechanisms of power—whether of Empire or Temple—on which the worldly-wise depend be subverted so that it leads finally to Messiah trumping all?
Followers of the King rightly pursue “the other way around” of their Master and Lord. He is King, but his Kingdom, like he himself, is in the world but not of it. His right ways, and the operations of his Kingdom, run counter to other kingdoms. Whereas worldly kingdoms function to guarantee the well-being of their citizens above all and sometimes, if deemed necessary, to the exclusion, denial or detriment of others, Messiah’s Kingdom would embrace all and insists on pursuing the benefit, or blessing, of all even when providing for and protecting its own citizenry. Whereas worldly kingdoms focus on what is good for their own and how to increase that good for its own, Messiah’s Kingdom, if the King provides an indication, cares first for those in want and need, even to the point of sacrificing one’s own self and systems to do so.
Then, there is the matter of weaponry and arsenals. The weapons of Messiah’s Kingdom are not those of this world. Messiah’s people wage battle in the world, but not as the world. They do not and they cannot depend solely, and at times at all, upon the merely human governments to which they belong. They do not expect, and therefore do not seek, such governments to accomplish prophetic vision and divine plans. Rather, because of Messiah’s peculiar way of trumping the powers of Temple and Palace, they look for “the other way around” strategies of his Kingdom. They count themselves and others “blessed” in the ways Jesus did, they commit to the pursuits and priorities Jesus identified, they persist in cultivating their lives and relationships such that Spirit-fruit thrive, they dismantle the barriers that would otherwise isolate and separate neighbors—especially the ones who haven’t really met each other yet, they step up and into opportunities to create understanding and lay aside grievances of old, they live in peace, pursue peace and make peace, they would rather absorb evil than perpetrate it—even unwittingly, they do not “seek satisfaction,” or recognition, or “their due,” they do not worry (at least not much!), they do not lose heart (at least not for long), and they wait for the loving-kindness and goodness of their King to work its “magic.” It can take a long time, but “time” doesn’t work the same “the other way around.”