Meditation and Reflection

Palm Sunday: the Kingdom of God and a new social order


The Kingdom of God was heralded by the Messiah riding a donkey. By reason and provocation, He urged anyone who would fully accept that Kingdom to enter into its reality. It was not about mythical notions of the nationalism, or of cultic, legalistic or apocalyptic understandings of spacial and temporal rule: the Kingdom of God was and is about riding the donkey of divine transcendence.

The Church is the visible Kingdom of God on earth (Mt 16:18f), and its mission is to dispense grace through the ages, to multiply and to become self-governing, self-supporting and self-extending. It is not about a future promise, but is present now and intrinsically engaged with the exigencies of life. Salvation is a process which begins now with a Kingdom commitment (1Cor 11:17-22 cf Acts2:44), bringing healing in a total sense: the healing of the person, restoring fullness and completeness.

The urgent needs of real people take precedence over heavenly issues, even though those heavenly thoughts speak of the ultimate eschatological hope. God and His Kingdom are not remote or aloof: they are present and immanent in redemptive nearness. Unless the proclamation of salvation makes an impact now, we are only playing with words. We are here to demonstrate the love of God by riding on a donkey; not by asserting, coercing, bulldozing or Bible bashing.

Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God incorporated a historical demand for justice in word and deed. Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) experienced salvation not only personally, but also relationally as he severed links with an unjust tax system and his unjust treatment of the poor. Jesus’ offer of grace to all people is a challenge to break down those barriers that prevent communion with others who differ from oneself in terms of race, class, sex or circumstance.

Salvation is social. Luke’s ‘despiritualised’ beatitudes are expressed toward those who are poor (Lk 6:20) as opposed to the ‘poor in spirit’ (cf Mt 5:3); and those who physically hunger (Lk 6:21) as opposed to those who ‘hunger for righteousness’ (cf Mt 5:6). While Matthew’s beatitudes continue with blessings during persecution and slander, Luke switches to woes upon the rich and well fed (Lk 6:24f). The social scripts of a poor beggar are reversed with those of a callous rich man (16:19-31); the repentant publican is accepted before the ‘righteous’ Pharisee (18:10-13); the labourers in the vineyard regain the land controlled by a greedy, absentee landlord (Mt 20:1-16); a desperate and persistent widow receives mercy from a judge (Lk 18:2-6). All of these are described in salvation terms.

This reversal-of-culture dimension of the Kingdom brings salvation to those who suffer poverty in all its dimensions. It lays great emphasis on the reformation of social structures in the here and now, bringing salvation to the bleeding points of humanity. It is a divine imperative, re-enforced by practical reality and efficacy: the world years for a concrete demonstration of the message. Thus salvation and mission have to meet physical needs as well as the spiritual: it necessitates the presence as well as proclamation of the Kingdom.

Salvation is a new life, forgiveness, wholeness and healing – recovery of the whole person according to God’s original purpose for His creation. To be saved is to enter the Kingdom with transformed values, actions and relationships, for a whole new earthly life of discipleship (Lk 8:10; Mk 10:15; Mt 13:41). Thus time and the present world are sustained, but dire poverty and injustice give way to a new communal spirit of love and generosity.

If the Kingdom is present, salvation may be proclaimed by the power of signs and miracles (Rom 15:19 cf Mt 4:23f). The work of Jesus on the Cross is supplemented by power evangelism – a spontaneous Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Signs and wonders become evidence of the reign of God over sickness and demons, and salvation includes active deliverance in this present world from real demons, accompanied by physical healing.

But how do we speak credibly of angels, demons and miracles in a materialistic, positivist, technological age? How do we communicate that spiritual reality is the ground for all being and meaning, or tell people that the world of the Spirit is known not merely through rational reflection or primal need, but through an actual encounter with it? Depictions of heavenly bodies that operate with intentionality, miraculous events that bend what we expect from nature, and battles that occur between spiritual forces, are integral to the world of the biblical testimony. Mission is considerably facilitated by such encounters of spirit over matter, since the supernatural intervention of God connects with a deep hunger and thirst to know God.

Like the mission of the Church, the Kingdom of God is ultimately indefinable: the most we may hope for are approximations of what they are about, and the Messiah riding a donkey gives a clue. The Kingdom of God is multi-dimensional and all-encompassing, but it arrives on an ass. If your motive is conversion, the Kingdom is limited to the sum of saved souls. If your motive is church planting, the Kingdom becomes an institution. If your motive is eschatological, the Kingdom becomes a future hope and the exigencies of life are ignored. If your motive is charitably philanthropic, the Kingdom becomes the pursuit of social justice for the amelioration of society. But when your motive rides a donkey, the Kingdom is a daily experience.

  • The Explorer

    A victorious Roman general would enter the city riding on a warhorse, or in a triumphal car. with the defeated barbarian general (if he had survived) plodding in chains behind.

    A general riding a donkey would have caused consternation among the mob.

    Yet ‘Zechariah’ 9:9, predicting the Messiah, says he will come riding the colt of a donkey. You would think that would have given a clue that political power was not the Messiah’s objective.

    • IanCad

      I’m not so sure that the donkey seemed so humble to the people that Palm Sunday.
      Solomon rode a donkey as did other mighty men and kings.
      Rather, the colt, ass, donkey or mule was a symbol of peace from the ruler who rode one.

      • The Explorer

        Thank you. That’s a good answer to something that’s always puzzled me.

      • chiefofsinners

        Why then the word ‘lowly’ in Zechariah 9?

        • IanCad

          Difficult one Chief. Lowly can also mean humble, or, the afflicted one. Although King of Kings, Christ was certainly that.

      • Ivan M

        The Mongols rode on colts. The smaller food requirements of the animal led to astounding success for the conquerors. Hajj Wilhelm, German propagandists let it be known that Kaiser Wilhelm was considering the Shahada, rode in snootily on his high horse. Gen Allenby though in deference to the Saviour walked into Jerusalem.

        • IanCad

          Good points all!
          One overlooked point is our general perception of the mule. Usually considered but a dumb beast of burden, it is in fact a magnificent creature, and much more intelligent than a horse. It can be seen why a king would choose to ride on such.
          Years ago I attended a rodeo that featured a twenty mule team – the famous Borax team – an incredibly impressive performance.

          • Ivan M

            IanCad, the donkey had his “One Moment in Time”:

            The Donkey by G. K. Chesterton

            When fishes flew and forests walked
            And figs grew upon thorn,
            Some moment when the moon was blood
            Then surely I was born.

            With monstrous head and sickening cry
            And ears like errant wings,
            The devil’s walking parody
            On all four-footed things.

            The tatter’d outlaw of the earth
            Of ancient crooked will
            Starve, scourge, deride me, I am dumb
            I keep my secret still.

            Fools! For I also had my hour;
            One far fierce hour and sweet:
            There was a shout about my ears,
            And palms before my feet.

  • Anton

    Christ has different messages for the politicians and the poor, because they play different roles in society. But the latter are not to be violent revolutionaries, and one thing is the same for each: repent or face divine wrath.

  • B flat

    This threw me completely:
    ” the labourers in the vineyard regain the land controlled by a greedy, absentee landlord (Mt 20:1-16);”
    Surely, God is the landlord showing unexpected generosity, against which some labourers grumble. Are you really a conservative? What revolution are you reading into this parable?

    • IanCad

      A common oversight I’m sure. It is all too easy to get the vineyard parables mixed up.
      HG obviously meant the vineyard in Matthew 21:38

      • The Explorer

        God in that one may be an absentee landlord who is arguably at fault for going abroad and not keeping a personal eye on things, but there is no suggestion, that I can see, that the landlord is greedy. The fault lies with the tenants who abuse the servants (the prophets) and kill the son (Christ).

        • IanCad

          You’re quite correct. I was picking up on the absentee landlord part of the parable and not the rest of it.

          • Uncle Brian

            the labourers in the vineyard regain the land controlled by a greedy, absentee landlord (Mt 20:1-16)

            Like all three of you, this has got me foxed as well. The parable about an absentee landlord whose tenants try, but fail, to take possession of the property, is at Matt 21.33-44, with a parallel at Luke 20:9-19 and also in Mark. It has always been explained to me as having to do with the Jews and the Gentiles in the Church. The landlord is identified with God, the servants with the prophets, the son with Jesus, the tenants with the Jewish leaders, and the “others” with the Gentile Church.

            The other vineyard parable, at Matt. 20:1-16, is the one about “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” It’s not about an absentee landlord or the workers attempting to take possession of the property.

            His Grace can only be referring, I think, to the absentee landlord parable at Matt. 21.33-44, but where does his interpretation of it come from, I wonder? In my Bible, the labourers (tenants) do not regain the land. That’s what they try to do, but they fail.

  • chiefofsinners

    The donkey which Balaam rode, on his way to curse the people of God, was uncontrollable and crushed his foot, although it should by all human standards have been obedient and compliant, since he had owned and ridden it for many years. However, it could see the spiritual realities which Balaam could not. Modern man follows in the way of Balaam.
    The donkey which Jesus rode ought to have thrown Him off, never having been ridden before. However there was a greater spiritual reality, undiscerned by the crowds. Jesus came to bless the people of God. His heel would be bruised, but the head of the serpent would be crushed.

  • Martin

    The Kingdom of God is not about riding the donkey of divine transcendence, but about God in His mercy saving those He chose to save. Nor is the Church’s mission to dispense grace, it is God alone who does that. The Church is the proclaimer of God’s grace, it is to proclaim to all the offered mercy. God applies that proclamation to who He will. The Church is never self governing, for it has one leader, one Lord, and each Christian is directly responsible to that one, not to a hierarchy of men.

    Matthew 16:18 says nothing of the Church, rather it speaks of the one who is the foundation of the Church and of the faith in Him granted to His people. Salvation is the work of God in which He saves His people, the Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of His death on the cross that made this possible for all time. In Salvation the person is made spiritually alive, but the body awaits renewal and wars against the spirit. Rom 7:21-25.

    There will always be injustice in this world, Mttw 26:11. While our aim must be to aid those who need it, it is more important for the sinner to receive salvation than relief. The Beatitudes are not describing those who are in physical poverty but the soul, revived from spiritual death, is described here. Luke was equally, with Matthew, speaking of spiritual hunger and those who thought they were spiritual.

    The gospel is not about physical poverty but about spiritual renewal. The greatest miracle ever seen is the renewal of the the sinner, not the raising of the physically dead.

  • len

    Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9,
    “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
    See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and
    riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
    Jesus was announcing publicly that He was the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for.

    The Jews wanted a Messiah to rid them of Roman rule but Jesus had come to offer salvation from the power of sin.

    Jesus came in humility not as a warlord but in gentleness love and peace and the crowds were soon to turn on Him when their desires were not met.

  • CliveM

    YG Thank you for such a thought provoking blog.

  • Philip___

    If salvation was “social” they’d be no need for the cross.

    Salvation IS to do with eternal destiny.

    John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (yes, eternal life does begin now when one believes in Christ, but it is still eternal life)

    John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

    Romans 5:1 & 9 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

    2 Thess 1:8-9: He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. Obeying the Gospel means believing in Christ alone for eternal salvation turning to live for Him.
    John 6:27-29: Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one(Rom 10:9-15) he has sent.’

    (Rom 10:9-15)

    The commission Christ gave to the church is: “This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,” (Lk 24:46-47), with the result that disciples are made (Matt 28:16-20)

    Jesus’ healings and miracles demonstrated His divinity, and that He is inaugurating His Kingdom giving a foretaste of the new Creation He’ll bring in when he returns, when they’ll be no injustice, sickness, mourning and poverty and need. His practical social teachings are there to demonstrate our inability to earn salvation by ‘good works’ and then once one believes and thus united with Christ, can begin to live out.

  • Findaráto

    “Mission is considerably facilitated by such encounters of spirit over matter…”

    List one credible miracle that can’t be explained in materialistic terms or dismissed as a unsubstantiated delusion.

    Your mission is not facilitated by claiming miraculous interventions where none can be proven. Quite the reverse. You reveal yourself as hysterical and highly impressionable believers in spells and magic and spooks, on a par with Wiccans and pre-school children.