As I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across an image of a t-shirt that read “The first Palm Sunday was a riot.” It is fitting, then, that we come to the culmination of our Lenten journey in holy frustration beginning with a riot. As Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Today’s scene of Jesus entering into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion comes from Luke’s gospel. Contemporary biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey is a political act—a threat to imperial rule and clericalism. His entrance upon an animal mimics that of parades that welcome military leaders home. And the people respond as such. They wave their palms as signs of victory. They lay their cloaks as a sign of respect. And this is what signals us to the riotous nature of the procession. The only other time cloaks are laid before a procession in the Bible was when the military leaders staged a coup to claim Jehu the rightful King of Israel. The people are expecting Jesus to be this kind of ruler, to drive out the Romans.
Yet riding on a donkey, Jesus is posturing himself as a person who rather comes humbly into the city with peace. His aim is not a military coup but a conversion toward peace. The people have been forced down by the violence of oppression for far too long, and have been wrongly led to believe that the only retaliation is a violent one. Jesus is the embodiment of a limitless imagination and radical hope.
Two weeks ago, the Biden administration announced that it would end the two year long blanket ban on asylum known as Title 42. On what was their two year anniversary of the policy, Revolucionari@s Kino, an organizing group made up of asylum seekers working the the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora held a march calling for its end. If a riot is the language of the unheard, these women organizers were demanding to be heard.
In February, I had the privilege of accompanying a group of students to the Kino Border Initiative. There we met one of Las Revolucionarias, Maria del Rosario. She shared the dreams she had for her children. She wanted them to learn how to read and have access to education. She wanted them to have decent healthcare. Most of all, she wanted her kids to have the freedom to be kids. She wanted them to be able to play in the streets past 4PM without the threat of violence. She wanted them to have the freedom to choose who they want to be when they grow up, not between death or working for the cartels. Maria and her family made the perilous journey through the desert and to the Arizona/Mexico border because she knew that violence was not the only option.
So we ride into Holy Week with our holy frustration on the memory of a riot. We wave our fronds and fold our palms into crosses and are reminded that those silenced demand to be heard and that our destination is peace.
Teresa Marie Cariño Petersen is an educator and activist particularly interested in racial justice and embodiment. She currently works as a campus ministry teacher at Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton where she teaches social ethics and coordinates the immersion program. She credits her faith that does justice formation to ISN and is an alum of St. Ignatius (San Francisco), the University of San Francisco, and (soon to be) Jesuit School of Theology. She also served as a Jesuit Volunteer in New York City 13’-14’ and worked at two Jesuit parishes. Teresa also serves on the board of the National Catholic Reporter.
Find her on Instagram @teresamariecarino