Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9-10) announces the righteous and victorious King of Israel will come, not on a war horse like other kings, but on a donkey in humility and peace, bearing witness to a different kind of kingdom.
In the Christian tradition we understand that when Jesus enacts the promise he is performing an unmistakable political act on behalf of a new kind of liberation. It’s why Matthew tells us in his retelling of the event that it has thrown the whole city in turmoil as people were asking, “Who is this?” (21:10-11)
Acting on behalf of a new kind of freedom that threatens the principalities and powers that dictate the terms of freedom, and to do so in such a public way, is a dangerous thing.
We know this to be true.
On the day before Palm Sunday we remembered the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. We remember that the more public his declaration of freedom became, the more of a threat he grew, and the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his death on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
In remembering Dr. King we remember Medgar Evans. We remember that the more public he made his fight for freedom from Jim Crow in Mississippi, the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his death in his driveway.
We remember the Freedom Riders of 1961, groups of white and African American activists whose declaration of freedom put on public display in the American South led to horrific violence against them.
Going public with a declaration of a new kind of freedom that threatens the principalities and powers that dictate its terms is a dangerous thing. Dr. King knew it. Medgar Evers knew it. The Freedom Riders knew it.
Jesus knew it. He knew the weight of the liberation he would bring, a liberation like no other, and the weight of suffering and violence he would endure because of it. And he did it anyway. For every one.
I’m thankful he did.