Friday, March 18, 2016

‘Hosanna’ as against ‘Roman Mata Ki Jai’: Palm Sunday Challenge

The occasion of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before facing Cross and crucifixion, which is observed by Christians as ‘Palm Sunday’ is an important event in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. It is important to know how the passage containing this palm Sunday story in Bible is named, particularly the passage from Matthew 21: 1-11 is titled as ‘Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem’ (NRSV), ‘Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King’ (NIV), ‘Jesus triumphant entry’ (NLT). All the titling is basically ‘interpretation’ of the people who have compiled the texts as different versions of the Bible, and therefore seeks verification. When I read this text from Matthew, I understand this text as Jesus’ contestation of triumphalism, and if I have to title this passage, I would like to title it as ‘Jesus’ anti-empire procession’ or ‘Jesus’ contestation of triumphalism’ or ‘Jesus counter-hegemonic ride’ or ‘Citizens shouts ‘Save us’ from oppressive regime’ or ‘Turmoil in the city’.

1.      Jesus’ Counter-Hegemonic Procession into the City:
Jesus lived at a time when Roman oppressive regime was ruling them, for Jesus’s community were under occupation, and have been subjective to exploitation by rulers, governors, priests and other religious authorities. It was a usual practice of the Roman army to conduct a military parade with horses on the streets of Jerusalem prior to the festival of Passover as a sign of their authoritarian power and rule, for their arms and weapons were at public display to frighten and threaten people who are subjective to them. Year after year, the occupied people have witnessed these military parades of the army in the streets and have been frustrated with this kind of rule. Therefore, Jesus’s procession into the city is a march of counter-hegemony, contesting against the oppressive regimes, parading on a donkey with people holding palm branches, which was their yearning for the coming of an alternative kingdom as against the kingdom of Rome.

2.      Jesus’ Anti-Empire Procession into the City:
Jesus’ procession into the city was a pre-planned one, for he ordered the disciples to go and fetch the donkey and the colt and prepare for this ride. Jesus’ ride on the donkey is an expression of his anti-empire ride, displaying an alternative kingship, as against the pomp and royalty of the Roman emperors and the empire. This was a public march against the empire of his times. This was a march of the colonized against the colonizer. That is the reason there was ‘turmoil’ at the end of the procession as recorded in 10v. ‘When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil.’ This was a march that stirred the city, that was ended in a turmoil, which exhibits, the angst of the colonized against the oppressive empire. Towards the end, the identity of Jesus was revealed, which wasn’t in any way kingly, but it is recorded in verse 11, ‘the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ Here is the Jesus movement, which is run by an ordinary man from a village called Nazareth in Galilee who was running an anti-empire procession in the capital city of Jerusalem, in which act, the crowds have seen ‘a prophet’ in Jesus.

3.      Citizens Shouting ‘Save us Save us’ over against ‘Roman Mata Ki Jai’:
Jesus’ political march in the streets of Jerusalem was well supported by the people, the citizens of that nation who were shouting ‘Hosanna to the son of David, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven.’ These shouts are of prominence, for the citizens of Roman empire were compelled to shout ‘hail Caesar’ for rulers who were called ‘Caesars’ claimed themselves to be sons of God, who were sent by God to rule the empire. The other popular slogan during their times was ‘there is no other name under the heaven by which men can be saved than that of Caesar.’ In contrast to this empire slogans, the co-citizens of Jesus were shouting ‘Hosanna son of David.’ This was the genuine yearning of the citizenry as they were looking for ‘freedom’ from these oppressive political regimes. I guess the gospel writers censored the other bit of these shouts like save us from what? Or save us from whom? The shouts could have been ‘Save us from Rome’ Save us from Caesars’.  The empire in a way was forcing its citizens to understand it in today’s terms to shout, ‘Roman Mata ki Jai’ (Mother Roma be hailed), but citizens’ shouts ‘Hosanna’, ‘save us’, which depicts the peoples’ anti-empire cries and aspirations to save them from the rule of oppression. These may look as slogans or shouts, but they convey deep ideologies and belief systems. The crowds could have been booked under ‘sedition’ laws and would have branded ‘anti-nationals’ for shouting something radically different from their dominant rhetoric.  It was in such a context, the citizens of a small territory in Judea were subverting the whole understanding of empire and were shouting ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ and ‘Hosanna in the highest’.

In light of this reflection, the call for us this Palm Sunday is to commit our faith communities to join with Jesus on his anti-empire, counter-hegemonic processions, shouting ‘Hosannas’ ‘God save us from these oppressive regimes of our times.’ Jesus’ alternative kingship and his alternative to the ‘roman empire,’ which he inaugurated in ‘kingdom of God’ should be our public faith belief, narrative, aspiration and paradigm.

Join with Jesus, this Palm Sunday in creating a turmoil in the context of empires, manifested as caste, class, patriarchy, race, religious nationalism, etc.  Join with Jesus this Palm Sunday in the mission of liberation that he has embarked against Caesars and their policies and join with Jesus and his co-citizens who boldly and courageously shouted against the dominant ideologies and stood undeterred even to the extent of being blamed as ‘anti-nationals’. Join with Jesus in a procession against the ‘honour killings’ that keep happening unabated in the name of caste. Join with Jesus this Palm Sunday to publicly express our solidarity in action with ‘exiled citizens’, ‘refugees’, ‘migrants’, ‘undocumented asylum seekers’, ‘homeless’, ‘excluded’, ‘marginalized’ and join with them in their struggles for justice.

Wishing you a Meaningful Palm Sunday.

Rajbharat Patta,

18th March 2016 

Picture courtesy:


Vinod Victor said...

Dear Raj
The affirmation that if they are silent Stones would shout is aimed at the Silence of all who are saying Let Us Keep Quiet
Thank you for being a Voice that shouts Hosanna- Save Us from the Oppresors

mary.c said...

Awesome reflection. Love it totally and blessed too. Thank you.

raj bharath patta said...

Thank you very much Vinod achen and Mary C for ur encouragement.

raj bharath patta said...

I saw some one commenting, 'save us' from what? and they say Bible clearly says that Jesus has come to save us from sin. Which sin? and what sin? Sin as corporate, social and structural needs sufficient interrogation. I also read that Jesus' coming has no political connotation, for he says that his kingdom is not of the world. To this, i understand Jesus did have a political context and setting in which he came and always projected kingdom of God as an anti thesis to kingdom of Rome. No one is reducing Jesus' message to mere social issues, for his message is wholistic.

tinumeren ozukum said...

Thank you again for a wonderful reflection, I am always concern about definition of sin by the church tradition and missionary who came to our land, especially Nagaland. What is your opinion?