In Jesus’ day, Jews were afraid and oppressed
-- afraid of the Romans and oppressed by the Romans.
Rome used its vast military power to control
weaker nations like Judah and Galilee.
So there was a revolutionary movement.
The Zealot party gathered swords and spears
the way modern revolutionaries would gather guns and bombs.
They planned to match the violence of Rome
with their own violence.
Others said, “That is hopeless.
It is better to do what Rome says – just get along.”
Some of Jesus’s follower wanted Jesus to lead their revolution.
Others just wanted to stay out of trouble.
But Jesus taught a third way.
He taught them to resist oppression in clever peaceful ways.
He taught them ways of prayer and a holy life
that put Rome to shame.
He said “do not resist evil with evil.
Do not resist the violence of Rome
with your own violence.
But overcome evil with good.
Defeat the way of violence with the way of peace.”
On that first Palm Sunday, two men led parades into Jerusalem.
From the West, Pontius Pilate,
the most powerful military and political boss
in the country rode on a stallion, a warhorse.
Pilate led a whole cavalry brigade of Roman warriors,
and at least 80 foot soldiers too, maybe as many as 500.
Pilate’s soldiers were there to reinforce the garrison
at Jerusalem in case of any trouble
during the big gathering in the holy city for Passover.
But the procession was designed to intimidate the people
with the threat of Roman power.
So Pilate rode in with trumpets blaring.
He rode in with pomp and grandeur.
But half the crowd wasn’t there.
Half the crowd was on the other side of town.
While Pilate was entering Jerusalem from the West,
Jesus was arriving from the East.
Instead of a powerful stallion, he rode a flea-bitten little donkey.
Instead of hundreds of soldiers, he had 12 ragged friends.
It was a deliberate political demonstration.
It was political theater mocking Pilate and his Roman power.
It was the kind of joke that makes self-important people
like Pilate furious until they learn to laugh at themselves.
I have just returned from the Episcopal Church’s conference on
Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace.
Bishop Sutton of Maryland called the way of Jesus
“soul force,” the power of persistent love
to overcome evil.
He cited Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela
as followers of Jesus’ peaceful path to justice.
He might have added Caesar Chavez and Aung San Suu Ky of Myanmar.
He might have included Corazon Aquino.
He cited a historian who said the 20th Century was a testimony
to the effectiveness of non-violent resistance
to change the course of government.
It was also a testimony to the futility of war
to accomplish anything good.
None of our national wars has brought peace, prosperity, or happiness.
Yet, we have grown so fond of war
that our leaders use the idea of war to solve anything.
We have a war on terrorism, a war on drugs, and so forth.
Once we even had a war on rising prices.
Gangs are a major problem in our cities.
They are the biggest problem when the gangs have a gang war.
So to respond to this problem, we now have the War on Gangs.
Any fool can see that is pouring gasoline on a fire.
We haven’t actually won a war since 1945 but we keep doing it.
What we are doing is not working.
Instead of having our minds stuck in the way we have been doing things,
the way of war on whatever we thing is bad,
we might remember Jesus and his teachings.
“Do not resist evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Here was a man who dealt with sin by forgiving sinners,
dealt with sickness by healing the worst diseases,
dealt with divisions among Jews by inviting
people from opposing sides to be his disciples,
dealt with the separation from gentiles
by healing a gentile child and committing an act
of civil disobedience, breaking the law to drink water
from the hand of a Samaritan woman.
Jesus crossed the boundaries to make peace.
And that made the people in power angry.
It made them angry because their power was based on fear and division.
Without enemies, they lose their power.
Jesus scared them with a completely different power – soul force.
But how far was he willing to take that?
Would he remain non-violent even to the point of death?
When the guards came to arrest Jesus, Peter went for his sword.
But Jesus said, “Put it back in its sheath.
Don’t you know I have only to say the word
and I’ll have more than 12 legions of angels
to take these guys out?”
Each angel is a fighting force beyond what we can imagine.
Do you know how many angels are in 12 legions?
That would 64,800 angels.
Jesus had ample firepower at his disposal.
He also had a lot at stake -- torture and death.
But Jesus chose to take up his cross
rather than resist evil with evil,
violence with violence, war with war.
Holy Week will be a story of courage,
the courage to suffer and even die
in hope that God will redeem.
Easter will be the story of God’s judgment,
awarding eternal life and perfect glory,
to Jesus who overcame evil with good.
Sometimes someone still acts like Jesus.
Coming on Christmas 1957, Martin Luther King was in jail,.
While there he wrote his Christmas sermon. He said,
“To our bitterest opponents I say,
‘we will match your capacity to inflict suffering
with our capacity to endure suffering.
We shall meet your physical force with soul force.
Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. . . . .
Bomb our homes and threaten our children,
and we shall continue to love you.
Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community
at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead,
and we shall still love you.
But be ye assured we will wear you down
with our capacity to love.
We shall win freedom but not only for ourselves.
We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience
that we shall win you in the process,
and it shall be a double victory.”
I speak to you today, as one of those racists,
whose soul was saved by those African American heroes
with their endless capacity to endure suffering.
That’s what Jesus was doing on the cross.
He won soul of the centurion
who saw who Jesus was by the way he died.
He won you and he won me.
And following his example, we will win the world.