Jesus is the grand marshal of today’s parade. He’s the celebrity, the big draw. The crowds come en masse. As he enters Jerusalem, people can’t help but notice others swarming around him. As they see him riding through, they’re so taken with the whole thing they’re ripping branches off of trees to throw on the road. They take the clothes from their backs and toss them onto his path. It gets a little wild as they shout, “Hosanna!”
This is peak fame.
This is peak Jesus hysteria.
And yet, it’s a parade of one. It’s a parade of a poor carpenter from a rural village. It’s a parade of a man on a donkey. Surely some of them laughed. A man riding a donkey as he enters the city, and people are praising him.
I’m someone who struggles with second-hand embarrassment. By that, I mean, it’s really difficult for me to see another person be humiliated. It feels like I’m being humiliated. I cannot stand it. This text affects me on that level—this is embarrassing! The man looks like a fool. Is it a joke?!
Well, it kind of was. It’s a joke that made a point and a joke that got him killed. There was more than one gate into the great city of Jerusalem. And when important people, like Roman Governors, arrived through one of these gates, it was customary that the people would come out to greet them, throwing branches. Throwing flowers at their rulers. It was more than customary though. It was required if the people wanted any hope of respect from their Roman overlords.
Roman governors came through the Damascus gate. They passed through the gate atop great warhorses, with a legion of soldiers protecting them. As they entered the city they conquered, with the colonized peoples worshipping them, their message was clear. They had the power. They were in control. And the people’s only option was to greet them at the Damascus gate and cheer.
But Jesus didn’t enter through the Damascus gate. And he didn’t arrive on a warhorse, but as we hear, he entered very intentionally upon the back of the donkey. He didn’t arrive with a military legion, but with a rowdy band of followers who blended into the cheering crowd.
At the time that Jesus made his way through the Beautiful Gate. Scholars believe it’s very likely that Pontius Pilate was entering Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate with all the displays of Roman power and might. Jesus, defenseless atop a donkey, was mocking Pilate’s show of force. Jesus, in his humility, humiliates Pilate’s over-the-top entrance into a city that didn’t want him.
As I’ve revisited this text and the context, I’m conscious that, as queer people, we are experts in humiliation. We could teach seminars on humiliation. We know its contours better than we would have ever liked. For better or worse, we know what it feels like to walk through a crowd of people and have their eyes on us. We also know what it’s like to endure slurs and be physically assaulted for transgressing gender norms. We know what it’s like to be fodder for public political and religious arguments. It seems to be that humiliation is something we can’t escape.
I remember how worried my mom was about this when I came out to her and my dad. I had driven down from seminary to their ranch in Southeast Texas. Having endured humiliation in elementary school for being an effeminate boy, I was ready to share that I was, in fact, gay. My mom cried, saying that she feared for what I would endure by being a gay man in this world. I surprised myself by saying something like, “No, you don’t understand. I’m now proud of what I feared. I can’t be shamed for something I’m proud of.”
There was a lot of truth in that moment of confidence. Even if it was a little overly optimistic. But just as queer people know humiliation, we know what it means to disempower that humiliation. Every queer person who has reappropriated a stinging slur into a vessel of power, knows what I’m talking about. Even the word “queer” is an example of this!
I see some of the wisdom we carry in what Jesus does here. There is some kind of mysterious power in his public display of self-humiliation. Just like any gay man who has ever thought, “You want to call me a “faggot,” well I will serve you faggotry!” Jesus says, “Oh, you think I’m weak? I’m not the military revolutionary you were hoping for? You’re disappointed I don’t have a warhorse at my disposal? Then how do you like this fabulous donkey , hmmmm?!”
Jesus embraces what makes him the messiah that he is, disarming his haters along the way. He secures his power on his own terms, which is only amplified by a community that celebrates him for all his subversive antics. Inspired by his queer entrance through the Beautiful Gate, they join in his pride parade by flailing palm branches. (Another thing queer folx are great at—making the most out of what’s available to us.)
This Lent, reflect on the places you’ve internalized shame because other people have feared all that you’re bringing to the parade of life. And then ask yourself, what if I was proud of what others would seek to humiliate me for?
The Rev. John Russell Stanger is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) and a psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in working with LGBTQ clients.