Climate Justice: Palm Sunday

Taking a stand with God's shalom

March 29, 2015

Focus Scripture: Luke 23:1-49

Today’s heart-wrenching text illustrates, among other things, the power and the danger of the mob. Jesus paraded into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosannah!” and less than a week later he walked out wearing a crown of thorns, stumbling to the thuds of a coarse wooden cross. Who drummed up the palm parade? Why were people shouting “Hosannah”? What did they want from this King? What happened between Sunday and Thursday? God has a story to tell us through this mob mentality, a frightening human pattern that led to apathy, even complicity on that day, as it has on so many others. Nobody stopped the death of an innocent man. And we should ask why.

The leaders failed to show courage. Maybe Pilate was afraid of an uprising. Perhaps the religious leaders worried that they would lose their grasp on power as the Jesus movement continued to grow. Perhaps Herod worried that he would lose face with Pilate.

Yet we might excuse the bystanders if we focused only on the characters who are named. Thinking like a mob and acting like a mob is what led to Golgotha. It probably took only a handful of instigators to get the crowd to shout, “Crucify him!” yet somebody in the crowd must have agreed with the centurion who said, in the shadow of the cross, that surely this man was innocent. Why didn’t anyone stand up and stop the gang, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him! Release Barabbas”? They must have known that they were condemning an innocent man to a horrible death, and nobody said, “Stop this.”

It’s deceptively easy to look back on history and to judge the silent, apathetic gatherers who failed to stand up for justice. When we look back on history’s atrocities, we often imagine that we would have stood up for righteousness, we would not have feared retribution, we would have stopped the multitude from stampeding the innocent. We would have marched with Dr. King in Selma. We would have stood beside Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Tegel.

But I wonder if we are fooling ourselves. How many times have I failed to feed someone who is hungry, or fallen short when I’ve seen the bully-cycle have its way with kids? How often have I turned away from the needs of my neighbors because I was too busy and already late for work? How often have I kept my head down so that I could advance the legitimate interests of my career or because I feared being ridiculed for taking a stand?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously addresses this tendency in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” writing:

“In the midst of blatant injustices … I have watched … church [folk] stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of … injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’”

King continued:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are.”

Lord have mercy when we are that church! And may God help us now to be a powerful, prophetic voice that can lead the way to new life.

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, may God help us to be sickened by climate disasters like drowning villages, cracked fields and burning forests. God forbid that we settle for business as usual or make peace with a status quo that is destroying life as it has evolved on this planet.

The old saying goes, “I’m in it for me, you’re in it for you, may the best man win.” God’s new story of shalom says, “We are all on the same boat, facing a storm of our own causing.” We must meet this challenge together.

Jesus does not teach us to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread,” but rather “Give us this day our daily bread.”

When viewed from God’s story of shalom, our political economy is absurd. In God’s shalom, money does not buy influence and selfishness has no value. Only love has power. Love is what motivates us, what inspires us, and what guides our way.

And so now, people of God, it is time to take a stand. Because short-term profit for the 1 percent of the 1 percent no longer trumps your health and mine. Our new story may start with changing lightbulbs, but in the end it leads to changing systems.

And changing systems means finding courage to stand up to the mobs full of indifference and apathy. This week, we are unlikely to hear a stadium crowd shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But we may well see an opportunity to interrupt an unjust system. We may well have a chance to help our neighbors. We may well have the chance to interrupt the bully cycle. We may well have the chance to stand up to the nonsense of climate deniers. We may well have a chance to reduce our own carbon footprint. We may well have the chance to seek and serve Christ in all persons, especially the ones who aren’t getting served.

As we prepare to enter the mysteries of Holy Week, I leave you with a traditional Franciscan benediction:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half truths and superficial relationships
so that you will live deep in your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people and the earth
so that you will work for justice, equity and peace

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer so that you will reach out with your hands
to comfort them and change their pain into joy

And may God bless you with the foolishness
to think that you can make a difference in the world
so that you will do the things which others say cannot be done.


— The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett serves as Bishop’s Chair for Environmental Studies and Food Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and pianist with Theodicy Jazz Collective.


  1. Steven Peters says:

    I have never read such balderdash hiding behind the skirts of religion in my life. “Drowning villages, cracked fields and burning forests,” indeed! What arrogance to believe – particularly in the utter absence of any scientific proof – that mankind has the power to influence Earth’s climate! Climate models that predict the future (based on forged historic records) but cannot recreate accurately the past are not science, but politics. The Episcopal Church has spent decades straying from the Bible in pursuit of modernity, and has shrunk every year in consequence. I have never been sadder for the religious institution of my youth, or gladder to have moved from it to a personal relationship with God that needs no support from your sick group of amateurs.

  2. Denna Weber says:

    My question is: Isn’t it easier to stand up against the injustices to others than to ourselves?
    My usual stance to this is: Well, that’s our job–to stand up and stand beside our sisters and brothers. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with their choices; even some of them have gotten them into this place–where others chide, ridicule. But everyone has good to offer, and we must not forget that.
    However, I am the one being crucified? A whisper, repeated to another and another…and over the years my dearest siblings and their children and theirs, who all used to rely on me and love me, now despise me. For the most part, there’s nothing to the accusations. It began with one, then turned into a mob. Yes, fear was part of it. Afterall, if they didn’t go along, they might just be the one crucified. So what should I do? I thought my record and all the previous years would speak louder than an in-law who decided, from the first moment, she didn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t get too close–and neither should anyone else. It hurts. I cry, and cry more. I do not want to be LIKE them, but I love them and miss them. And every one is afraid to stand up for me; they have learned to hate. Thet’s the real tragedy.

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