Continuing the Tradition of Subversive Entries: The Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train
Devotional prepared by Onleilove Alston for the Poverty Initiative.
Luke 19:29-41 (New International Version)
Jesus’ Triumphant Entry
29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!"
“The dispossessed of this nation—the poor, both white and Negro-live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against the injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty…
“…There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”
In Luke 19:28-41 we read the familiar but unusual passage about the “Triumphant Entry” from which we derive our Palm Sunday celebrations. Jesus does not enter Jerusalem in the same way as the religious and political leaders of his day; instead he enters on a donkey. To spite this extremely humble entry the people crown him their King and praise God for him. Though Jesus was not declared King by the Roman Empire peasants bestowed this title on him, and every Palm Sunday thousands of years later in churches across the world we echo their words.
This short but powerful passage gives us important insight into the agency of poor people to name themselves and to claim for themselves dignity outside the confines of the principalities and powers of their day. Throughout history we have examples of poor people who arise and claim dignity for themselves.
Could the Triumphant Entry be but one example of the many instances in which poor people organized themselves-peasants in Jerusalem organized around Jesus their declared King, slaves gathered in hush harbors and in 1968 poor people of all races from across America organized around the Poor People’s Campaign-beginning with a Mule Train from Marks, Mississippi (sound familiar).
The Poor People’s Campaign was the last project of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and much like the poor of Jesus day who risked persecution by proclaiming Jesus as their King because they had nothing to loose but bondage to the Roman Empire, the poor of Dr. King’s day risked it all to converge on the nation’s capital to challenge the American empire because they had nothing to loose but bondage to an economic system that robbed them of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
God places the desire for freedom within all of his children and just as he provided the donkey for Jesus’ triumphant entry, if we step out in faith with the freedom and power that Dr. King prophesied about in 1967, we too will have everything we need to obtain the liberation provided by our creator. As the gospel songs of old declared-“God is no respecter of persons what he did for others he can do for you too.”
Questions for Reflection
What do these stories of triumphant entries tell us about the nature of God and his desire for justice and liberation?
Do you see a connection between the donkey in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the mule train in MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign?
In what ways do we allow our fears of not being enough or having enough (money, talents, etc) stop us from doing God‘s work of justice?
This Lent what is one small way can you step out on faith and trust that God will provide you with what you need to be an advocate for justice?
Prayer: God, give me the faith and courage to step out and stand for justice trusting that you will provide me with all I need to do your work. In the name of Jesus our liberator – yesterday, today and forever, Amen.