WWJD? We already know
The trends of the 1990s are back, and among the scrunchies, crop-tops, and overalls, you may have noticed something else reappearing: the WWJD bracelet. The letters wrapped around a wrist are meant to remind the wearer to always ask: “What would Jesus do?”
This is, after all, one of the most formative parts of being a Christian, a disciple (student) of Jesus. The life and teachings of Jesus guide every aspect of our lives. We want to know what Jesus would do about anything and everything.
We ask that basic question – “What would Jesus do?” – with more desperation when our lives feel chaotic. And right now, as the news is filled with reports of the war in Ukraine, we are all especially aware of chaos and uncertainty. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wondered, “What would Jesus do in the face of this war?”
As the Chapel prepares for Palm Sunday, I’m realizing that the story we’re about to re-tell gives us some answers to this desperate question.
The focus of Palm Sunday is the story of Jesus riding into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19), an event that came to be known as Jesus’ “triumphal entry.” It was like a parade: crowds lined the streets to cheer and wave branches and spread their cloaks on the ground before Jesus like a red carpet.
But before I get into what all that means, I want to fill in some information that the ancient people in the crowd would have had but which most of us don’t. I’ll start with a story.
In 70 CE, Titus, a Roman emperor-to-be, conquered Jerusalem. This came after years of fighting with Jewish groups who rebelled against Roman rule, so it was an important victory for Rome – and Titus went all-out in celebrating.
He paraded into Rome, crowned with victory laurel, robed in royal purple. He was literally a god for a day. Companies of soldiers lined up before them; servants displayed gold and ivory; scarred captives in chains were forced down the streets; holy artifacts stolen from the Jerusalem Temple were held high. The rebellious general of the Israelite forces was tortured all along the way, until the grand finale, where he was finally executed.
This is what Roman conquerors did. They held a “triumph,” showing off their victory and their spoils. And even outside of these huge events, Roman rulers often paraded into occupied cities with displays of violent power. It was a way of claiming power over people – power that should only be God’s.
This brings us back to the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry. As he rides down the streets of Israel’s capital city, crowds shout out to him: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” They’re celebrating him as a prophet, as a messiah, as a true king. They’re hoping that he’s coming to throw off Roman rule and reign over them as the messiah – that through him, they will once again be a nation under God alone.
There are enough similarities that I imagine some of those Israelites lining the streets would have remembered times they saw Roman rulers parade into the city, maybe would have thought about the bigger triumphs that they’d only heard about. But there are enough stark differences to show us that Jesus does not claim the same source of power as the Romans.
Jesus makes no show of weapons, and instead of a warhorse he comes “humble, and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). He is surrounded not by soldiers and captives, but surrounded by the stories of his healings, his feeding, his good news. The execution at the end of the journey will be his own, a sacrifice offered up on behalf of his people.
Where a Roman leader would have chosen to display the power of war, Jesus chose humility, service, healing – the power of love. This is why I believe this story gives us some answers to our question: what would Jesus do right now?
Most of us don’t have any way of really impacting the war in Ukraine. We can speak up to those who do have that power, we can protest, we can donate, and these are all good and important things.
Where we have the biggest impact is much closer to home, among our family and coworkers and communities. These are the places where the love we find in Jesus comes rushing out of us to challenge the forces that lead to all war and enmity and violence. The power of Christ’s love undoes the powers of greed and fear and selfish ambition.
So – what would Jesus do right where we are, right now? How would Jesus treat the war refugees already near us? How would Jesus respond to the cries of victims of poverty, violence, nationalism in our own city? How would Jesus lead us to love the people we see every day?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
—St. Francis of Assisi
April 6, 2022
Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay takes turns writing weekly devotions with Rev. James A. Wetzstein at Valparaiso University, where both serve as university pastors.
- Katherine Museus Dabay
- A call to courage for 2021
- A New Place
- A Time of Dust
- Acquiring a peaceful spirit
- Anastasis: the Greatest Story of God’s Saving Power
- Another kind of darkness
- Be assured: You are forgiven
- Beacons of hope
- Fear of the Lord
- Fire on the Mountain
- Getting through this together
- God is not overwhelmed
- Grief & Graduation
- How do you keep from giving up hope?
- Jesus among us
- Lessons from Our Lady of Guadalupe
- Praying for Reconciliation
- Pulled in two directions
- Reflecting on the contrast
- Rest is Holy
- Surprisingly Simple: Breathe!
- What Do You Want?
- When God uses something terrible for good
- When heaven & earth click
- When our loved ones die
- When stress overwhelms
- When we are moved
- WWJD? We already know