Holy Week: The Upside-Down Kingdom

“They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.” Matt. 21:7

Forty days ago, Ash Wednesday inaugurated the Lenten season, inviting us to prepare our hearts, through self-examination, prayer, confession, and repentance in anticipation of Resurrection Sunday, Easter. We now enter into Holy Week which commemorates the events of Christ’s last week before his death.

Holy week begins with Palm Sunday, with Jesus entering Jerusalem. The city was abuzz with curiosity, nervousness, and excitement. They had heard of Jesus’ antithetical teachings, miracles, and claims of divinity. As Jesus entered the city gate, he watched the people wave palm branches—the traditional symbol for military victory. Jesus heard the people’s desperation as they cried out “Hosanna!” meaning “save us, we pray.” The people hoped that Jesus was the Messiah-King who would free them from their Roman oppressors and restore Israel back to its glory promised centuries ago by God.

Entering through another gate was Pontius Pilate the Roman governor assigned to Judea and Jerusalem.  It had become the custom of the governors to live outside Jerusalem, but it was also their custom to come with their soldiers to Jerusalem for Passover, to provide a very visible and powerful Roman military presence at that volatile time, to prevent any potential uprising. His procession would have come from the west gate, riding on a war horse, in front of a lavish procession designed to impress the people with a visual display of imperial power.

However, when Jesus entered the city that day, he entered through the eastern gate, the common people’s gate, on the back of a donkey with a mere dozen followers by his side. He came not as a conquering king, but as a suffering servant. Jesus’ way seems contradictory to all their expectations of a king. But then, Jesus’ life and ministry consistently embraced a demonstration of His upside-down kingdom.

Whenever Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, it was in an upside-down kind of way: the last shall be first; give and it will be given; a king who washes his followers’ feet and call them friends; you lose your life to find it; you are blessed when others insult you; love your enemies; we boast in our weakness; the greatest must become the least; gain is counted as loss; the humble will be exalted; we are citizens of another place; the meek will inherit the earth; repay evil with blessing; rejoice in suffering;

These were the themes Jesus shared in conversations while walking a dusty road, sharing a meal, and declarations to thousands on a hillside. Jesus showed us through his life and taught us what it means to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, in contrast to the kingdoms, like Rome, of this world. But, to be honest…this upside-down kingdom is completely counterintuitive to my cherished agendas, faulty intuitions, powerplays, self-serving values, and ill-perceived realities.

It was said that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ Manifesto of the Kingdom. It is the most radically disruptive thing you can read. And that’s the problem. The upside-down kingdom feels so overwhelming; it requires too much of me, and I don’t know if I can mold my life around such expectations.

I don’t even know where to begin. The good news is, Jesus showed us (again) the way that day. Like riding in on a donkey, living as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom…will take humility. Ouch. In a culture of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation, they don’t give out awards for humility. Revivalist preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards said, “We must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.” Okay, that means I need to start somewhere. I can start today.

What would it look like today to lay aside my expectations of how I think my day should unfold?

What if I relinquished my need to be right, smart, and appreciated?

What if I hold my tongue when I really want to make a snappy comeback?

What good can I do without the need to be recognized or applauded?

These are not life-shaking moments. But perhaps they are. At least in those moments, I pulled back the curtain, ever-so-slightly, to view a kingdom that puts others first, I “found” my life, and walked alongside Jesus on his journey to the cross.

Reflection Questions:

What comes to mind when you hear the word, humility?

What does this bring up in your life?

How might you lean into humility today? This Holy Week?

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