2002 March 10 – Palm Sunday (Prison Writings)
Cycle A – Palm Sunday
Fr. Frank Cordaro
Pottawattamie County Jail
The bulk of Jesus’ public life was lived out in the political arena. His message, spiritual as it was, had far-reaching political consequences for the disciples chose to follow him. It put them into direct conflict with the established political systems of their day.
The political nature of Jesus’ way is very apparent in the gospel accounts of the last days of his life. These accounts reveal an outline of what a non-violent resistance campaign might look like. The first action of any non-violent campaign is the non-violent, direct action itself. In the telling of the life of Jesus this begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was a major street demonstration with obvious political overtures. Any Jewish, itinerant, radical, reformer preacher who allowed himself to be the focus of a major street demonstration in Jerusalem during Passover in which the crowed hailed him as the Son of David would know that the Roman and ruling elite would see him as a clear and present political threat. According to the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus follows the street demonstration remembered in our Palm Sunday worship with the cleansing of the Temple—a contemporary Plow Share action. This non-violent criminal act sealed his political fate.
These actions initiated by Jesus were moments of confrontation and active non-violent resistance to the violent and unjust systems of his day. Any moment when truth is spoken in word and deed to the powers that be is a parallel event of this example of Jesus. This is the source and inspiration of non-violent, symbolic action.
The second action of any non-violent resistance campaign is the inevitable and violent reprisal by the powers that be. In Jesus’ case, it was a combination of the local Jewish authorities and the Romans who set a trap, arrested him, tried him, found him guilty, and nailed him to a cross.
There is nothing really unique about the first two steps of a non-violent, resistance campaign. History holds similar movements for social reform and justice from the bottom up. Often those seeking justice in a just cause who experience a violent reprisal from the entrenched, violent status quo, feel themselves justified in resorting to violent means to justify their cause. This is the rationale for what might be called redemptive violence. The problem with this approach is that the violence used for a just cause takes on a life of itself, creating a circular and never-ending rationale for violence. What begins today as a bottom up struggle for a just cause ends up as tomorrow’s on-going rationalizations for violent, base status quo. One has only to look at our own national mythology and listen to President Bush’s rhetoric or our so-called war on terrorism to see this faulty thinking acted out.