Commentary

Passion plays in spring and summer

In late summer we are told we can expect a great deal of street theater in St Paul. Bicyclers, hundreds of them, will be attempting to tie up the streets as delegates come to the GOP convention. Bicycles will tie up traffic and hope to slow limos and hummers on their way to their destinations.

Street theater in the midst of a troubled population is nothing new. Those of us who are old enough certainly remember the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.
One of the greatest street demonstrations was, of course, Jesus entering Jerusalem from the east on the first Palm Sunday sitting on a donkey while at the same time, we might guess, Roman soldiers entered Jerusalem on war horses and in chariots from the west. The Passover was a rowdy, annual event celebrating liberation from Pharaoh’s Egypt. It was like an American Fourth of July. Sadly, however, there was no liberation.

Passover must have seemed like an empty celebration of freedom when there was none. Frustration must have reigned supreme. One empire after another had trampled the land. At Jesus’ time it was the Romans. As the crowds waved, Jesus mocked the Roman power by entering, as a king…on a donkey. The crowds loved it. Jerusalem had soldiers on war horses and Jesus on a donkey.

This is nonviolent street protest at its best. I can imagine common frustrated folk waving palm branches for Jesus and wanting to spit on the path of Roman occupiers.

Later in the week, another crowd that was allowed close to the governor’s palace cried for Jesus’ death. Who gets close to governor’s palaces? I doubt these were the same crowds. Those who wanted the mocking, nonviolent Jesus silenced cried out for his crucifixion. And the governor listened. The governor was even willing to let the terrorist Barabbas go free rather than to tolerate the inspiration of Jesus and his nonviolent message.

This summer as power gathers, in the city named after the apostle who carried Jesus’ message to Rome, we can expect to see a new chapter of this old drama: Governors and high priests in collusion, frustrated crowds demonstrating, bicycles and limos just like donkeys and war horses.

The question is this: Has power learned to listen? Time will tell. We don’t need more crucifixions or Kent States. Why is it that we’re more willing to put truth on a cross than to try his approach?

Harry Mueller is interim pastor at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in Saint Paul.