Palm Sunday, March 20, joins the Christmas and Resurrection Day (Easter) observances as probably the most important entities marking the year for Christians. It was on that day that Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem, not on a handsome steed, but on a lowly donkey, surely puzzling his followers, who most likely expected Jesus to lead a successful insurrection against the hated Romans, to whom they were slaves, as were their neighbors throughout that region. Ironically, most of the populations in that region today remain virtual slaves, not to a single empire, but to a collection of despotic self-appointed rulers and/or equally despotic religious dictators, to whom life is maintained or destroyed within the context of expediency, not mercy or even justice.
Gladly welcomed into the city on Palm Sunday by the crowds that lined his journey, Jesus entered the most critical week of his life, more telling, even, than his 40-day-fasting and Satan-defeating experience in the wilderness at the outset of his official ministry some three-and-a-half years before. The onlookers also were certain that this worker of miracles, whose reputation had long since preceded him, would effect profound change in their lives, most notably that of being free of the Roman yoke, not even to mention perhaps the opportunity to score a bloody revenge against their oppressors. After all, they had heard that Christ even had the power to return dead people to life. With that incomprehensible power could he not be expected to wipe out their enemies even as God had wiped out the Egyptian army before it could recapture their forbears/slaves in that well-known flight through the Red Sea 1,500 years before, or all the inhabitants some years after that in Jericho?
It didn’t happen. Not even by this time and despite all his teachings, Christ’s followers, and certainly the crowds, had not picked up on the fact that his ministry and objective, rather than being ensconced in power and rule, were anchored in two things: servant-hood and sacrifice. As their disappointment set in, and driven by their own despotic “religious” leaders, who recognized Christ as an intolerable threat to their position, the crowd turned on Jesus, changing from being worshipers of some sort of super-star to screamers for his head. Jesus understood this, however, and in the throes of his agony upon the cross five days after Palm Sunday prayed for their forgiveness for they know not what they do.
There may be the popular conception that Jesus was some sort of “wimp,” since he preached love for fellow man as equal to that of love for self. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Even Jesus remarked at one point that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword, meaning that peace and its adjunct, protection, would be bought, at least much if not most of the time, on the point of the sword. On another occasion, possibly two, Jesus fashioned a whip with his own hands and in an act of what some call violence lashed the corrupt dealers who had defiled the Temple, the place of worship. He constantly was aware that his enemies (the church hierarchy) were seeking to kill him. He acted with great courage.
At one point, Jesus sent his disciples into the countryside on a sort of “revival” mission, instructing them to take no purse, no extra shoes, no bag, and to live on the welfare of those who would feed them. In this process, they learned that God would see to their needs. Significantly, during the Last Supper four days after Palm Sunday, he instructed his disciples to arm themselves even if some of their clothing had to be sold in order to do so. He even emphasized this matter by drawing the difference between this instruction and the one he had given them before they embarked on their previous journey. Jesus was no wimp. He was a realist, understanding that sometimes “fire would have to be fought with fire.”
The Crucifixion and Resurrection are well known historical events, portraying the elements of sacrifice and the absolute sovereignty of God with respect to his Creation. The entire panoply of events of the week of Palm Sunday are mirrored in a way, though admittedly certain to be considered by many to be a bizarre reflection, by the events surrounding the Bataan episode of World War II, which took place at the very time of the year coinciding with the week of Palm Sunday. It was during March of 1942 that the U.S. and Philippine armies became the sacrificial lambs, valiantly but hopelessly in a life-and-death struggle with the Japanese forces, the epitome of “evil on earth,” as their nation attempted to rule the world and had already committed unspeakable atrocities during the 1930s throughout Korea, China and Southeast Asia, not to mention the carnage at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Even as Jesus the realist told the disciples they would have to fight in behalf of practicing their faith, the brave men at Bataan had to fight for freedom, in a way contending for the faith people should be able to place in the decent populations of the world to do right, even if that meant the shedding of blood, theirs as well as that of the tyrants. From that time until now, nothing has changed. So…the melding of Palm Sunday with Bataan seems perfectly in order, the meshing of the spiritually sanctioned right of mankind to be free with the secular effort bringing that right to fruition, the former giving credence to the latter. Just as Jesus entered Palm Sunday voluntarily as the sacrificial lamb, the soldiers entered Bataan. At the end of the carnage in both cases, right had prevailed. In dying, Jesus instituted eternal life. In dying, those at Bataan instituted freedom. Both came at a horrific price, and the lesson should not be missed.
Man’s inhumanity to man
Was grimly practiced on Bataan
Where, in surrender, soldiers bore
A fate ensconced in blood and gore,
A fate not marked by cowardly flight
But marked by cowardly, random spite –
So marked by slicing bayonets
In hands of evil martinets
Who struck without a war-decree
A weaker state relentlessly
And in their overpowering strength
Wreaked havoc on its breadth and length.
For months the gallant soldiers fought,
But those who lived…the death-march bought,
Where thousands staggered, fell and died,
Surrender changed to suicide,
But suicide not by their hands,
Not honored by courageous stands,
But by a monster-ghoul’s attack
To starve and stab and strike and hack
To terrorize defenseless men
And give to shame their smug amen,
Inflicting pain because they could
On those whose nation never would.
Man’s inhumanity to man
Was grimly witnessed on Bataan,
But ere war’s final taps was blown
The seeds of death were justly sown
On nations that condoned Bataan –
Their inhumanity to man.
The seeds were sown on land and sea
And rained from skies relentlessly
By nations who would not allow
Bataan’s atrocities to cow
A nation-state or citizen –
Give human worth a proud amen.