Sovereignty was in the news nearly twenty-one centuries ago, in Jerusalem at the Passover festival. One whom many people thought might be the promised Messiah, the long-awaited successor of King David, was expected at the festival. Partisans, opponents, the curious crowds, and the ever-present occupying Roman forces, were on the look-out. Would Jesus come? And would he make good the claim to be the long-awaited king? Would he assert the sovereignty of David’s kingdom in David’s city?
Jesus came. He made good the claim to be the long-awaited king. He asserted the sovereignty of David’s kingdom in David’s city. In actions that shouted louder than words (though his followers were shouting words as well) he identified himself as the king described by the prophet Zechariah, the king ‘who comes triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’.
He asserted the sovereignty of David’s kingdom, and then spent the next few days apparently undermining his own claim. He taught in the Temple. There was no uprising. His enemies grew bolder. By Friday the crowds, who had cheered him as he rode in procession on Sunday, were ready to jeer him as he stumbled under the weight of his cross on his way to crucifixion. And according to St John, he had an encounter with Pontius Pilate who asked him point-blank whether he were a king, and Jesus didn’t have a point-blank reply. That didn’t matter to Pilate. He crucified him anyway. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, was dead. The revolution was over.
But for Jesus, and a few days later for his disciples as well, the revolution had only just begun. A new kind of sovereignty was being asserted, a new claim made, a new kingdom proclaimed. This was a sovereignty of love, a kingdom built on forgiveness, a community of reconciliation. There was a hint of it in that prophecy of Zechariah, which Jesus enacted on Palm Sunday. The king of this kingdom was humble, and he rode a donkey. And for all who would follow this king, it is the path of humility they too must tread.