Palm Sunday: Christ, the state, power and love

cape-verde-320815_1280A person is smart, people are dumb. We are animals like any other in god’s creation and when we get together and are incited by our worst fears, we make stupid decisions.

This point is clearly illustrated in the Lord’s Passion, read every Palm Sunday in most Catholic Churches. We begin by exalting the Son of God, laying down for Him the palms so that his feet might never touch the ground and by the end of the Mass, we have killed Him. We are animals who make stupid decisions.

In Catholicism, we think in terms of we in most everything we do. It is the collective, though every generation of the faithful is not legally nor morally responsible for acts reported two millennia ago, we understand that by our very nature, we have a responsibility to bear some ownership in the killing of our savior. There was about 1,962 years between the reported birth of Christ and when we stopped blaming our Jewish relatives in faith for that, but the Spirit was slow to act (though it took a holocaust for us to recognize that).

We read the Passion every Palm Sunday to remind ourselves of the conflicting nature of humanity. We don’t do this to guilt or shame ourselves, but to depart with the questions of why we are worthy of salvation and redemption. What is it about us that is valuable enough to keep our god from damning us all to hell? The question’s answer is one so simple that it causes every atheist I’ve ever had an in-depth conversation with get up and leave the table. The answer is love.

God loves us. Even when we refuse to believe or have not been witnesses to its mercy, it continues to love us. Even when we organize ourselves by strength of physicality, perceived dominance of melanin or by access to material wealth, god still loves us. Even when we put to death the lives sent to us by god so that we may glean some more profound understanding of how to live, god still loves us.

Jesus Christ was murdered by the state. Once again, Jesus Christ was murdered by the state. In the eyes of the contemporary powers at the time, He committed the crime of blasphemy and while Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the affair, what remains is that Roman soldiers flogged Christ, Roman soldiers marched Him to Golgotha and Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross until He commended His soul to God and gave up His breath.

The state is broadly defined as the government, the territory and the people. There again is our responsibility in all of this, the state killed our savior and we are part of the state. We can have all the laws, constitutions, fire power and rights we want, but when you boil it down, we’re still scared animals who will do away with the most revolutionary ideas that threaten our complacency.

And still, god loves us.

My father, who was both Christian and traditional Lakota, used to show me these scars on his palms. He told me he was born with the scars. My father also knew how to tell a story you’d swear was true until he started laughing at your foolishness. But he would simply say, “I was born with them. I think maybe I was hanging next to Jesus.”

He was a man of deep faith, he also lived in fear of the state. Whenever we’d travel off the reservation, I was told to sit still and not say anything if we were stopped by the police. He took extraordinary measures to travel the roads not patrolled by the police and we traveled at night. To this day, especially when the police are empowered to end black lives without accountability, I still avoid the police at all costs. The state killed my savior, the state kills black people, the state imprisons the free and the state does so without thought or remorse for its actions.

Yet I, as a citizen, am part of that state. It is why my savior’s commands come first and foremost: love one another, do good work, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Whatever privilege I have in the world (being a cisgender man who identifies in practice as a Christian) must be used to affect change for those on the margins. Because there is where my savior lives, with the outcast, with the fringe and with those who have been harmed by the very institution started in His name.

Those of us who believe are empowered in these days; we who believe are empowered to act to protect those being targeted, profiled, imprisoned, interrogated, detained, beaten, attacked and hated. We are empowered, particularly in these days of the Holy Week, because we know we are right to defend those without power; because we who hold some power show our love by sharing that power. And that is what Christ commanded us to do: to love.

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