The following is a reflection for Palm Sunday by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU: 

A couple of years ago, I made a weekend retreat with John Dear, former Jesuit and longtime peace activist. He was discussing nonviolent demonstrations and their value in the struggle for justice. What Fr. Dear said fits well with Palm Sunday and so I share.

Picture this. A large crowd of the people of Jerusalem were lining the streets on the outskirts of the city as Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator, was coming to town. The freshly swept path was hung with flags and ablaze with torches. The people all had colorful silk scarves to wave as the procurator rode by. They had been instructed to hold them high and wave them hard as they shouted, “Hail to Pilate, son of Caesar, son of Rome. Hosanna!” See Pilate riding in on a shining white stallion that was draped with a beautiful harness, a braided mane and outfitted with a perfect leather saddle. Pilate, too, was draped. He wore a cloak of red and a helmet of gold and gloves of white. He sat proudly on his stallion. This was on one side of town.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Jerusalem, Jesus was getting ready for a nonviolent demonstration. He was dressed in his usual road-worn outfit, dust-colored sandals, and torn cloak. He needed something upon which to ride, so he sent his followers to get an ass. The donkey was grey and humble, but sturdy. There was no harness, no braided mane and certainly not a saddle. The path into Jerusalem on this side of town had not been swept nor was it lit with torches. There were no banners and no colored scarves. There was only a small group of people –all followers of Jesus. When Jesus was given a hand to mount the donkey, he sat proudly upon it. The people grabbed palm branches and waved them before and alongside Jesus shouting, “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There were no banners or scarves, but palm branches would suffice. Jesus and His followers were making a statement. No need to disrupt Rome’s parade violently. No need to make a fuss to make a point. Just have your own parade and make your own statement—peacefully—nonviolently.

Jesus had a way of disrupting the establishment peacefully. Ask a Samaritan women for a drink. Tell a lame man to pick up his mat ON THE SABBATH. Have dinner in a tax collector’s house! Cure the servant boy of a Roman centurion. Allow a menstruating woman to touch your garment—oh my! Let a Zealot be one of your close followers. Answer the Roman Procurator with silence. Each one of these actions were just little touches of nonviolent protests.

Jesus, give us the grace to follow your example and walk the path of nonviolence.

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply,
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches from the trees
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Mt 21:1-11

Artwork by Jen Norton. Used with permission.