Holy Week begins with an ironic scene.
An itinerant preacher from the countryside is placed on a donkey, lauded with palm branches and hosana-ed by the crowd as their conquering king.
The governor Pontius Pilate would have been arriving in Jerusalem at the same time to ensure the peace during Passover.
No donkey for the mid-level bureaucrat. He would have had soldiers, horses and chariots — all the awesome weight of Rome.
Written in the shadows of imperial domination and the destruction of Jerusalem, the gospels were careful not to poke the bear, but Jesus knew what would happen when his Kingdom clashed with Empire.
He knew who would win.
He knew what would happen to him if he dared to stand up to the structures subjecting people for an imagined peace and rewarding subservience with status and wealth.
He knew going in that he didn’t stand a chance of coming out; that’s why in the garden, Jesus begged for reassignment.
But in that prayer, he found love ran much deeper than fear.
Somewhere in that agony, he found the ground where he must stand to the point of death and be buried to the point of life.
It wasn’t going to change anything, only deepen his conviction, and that would convict others for the ages.
Jesus is taken in the middle of the night by a Sanhedrin SWAT team. Secrecy, stealth and darkness are not the ways of legitimate power.
The high priest Caiaphas believed it was better for one man to die than the people. While that calculus may have been true, it also assured that Caiaphas and company would keep their anointed and well-oiled positions.
In Luke, Jesus is sent to Herod, who was hoping to see some miracle. When accused, Jesus remained silent, knowing that no words could change someone looking for magic.
Dependent on Rome for his kingly trappings, Herod tried to impress his puppet master by returning Jesus to Pilate, draped in mocking royal robes.
And then Pilate. This roguish little pawn of Tiberias knew Jesus was innocent of charges, but still a threat to him and to Rome.
Here was a man preaching a kingdom of care and concern, of God and neighbor, of surrender and service.
Rome and its doled-out power relied on brawn and the force of self-interest, not moral authority.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
Jesus didn’t answer. He knew that, for the kingdoms of this world, truth is merely what serves you best.