Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday, Propaganda and the Resistance of Mass Manipulation (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published in the Huffington Post on Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013, and can be found at: http://www.huffin;

On Palm Sunday many will hear the Gospel of Luke’s perspective surrounding Jesus’ celebrated entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40). In hearing this well-known portion of the New Testament, we are often led to wonder how the same crowds that so graciously and enthusiastically welcomed Jesus (“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" – 19:38) will passionately and viciously call for his death (“crucify him, crucify him”) just a few days later (23:21). In trying to comprehend the sudden and significant shift in public opinion, we recognize that the crowds did not swing their support independently, but rather, they were acting under the influence of propaganda.

As Luke’s Gospel reminds us, in between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the calls for his crucifixion, the “chief priests and the scribes” plotted to put Jesus to death (22:2). As these powerful elites were “afraid of the people” (22:2), they conspired to ensure that Jesus could not mobilize a movement of resistance, thus their power-protecting push to have Jesus humiliated, tortured, and brutally killed. And so, while Luke’s Gospel does not provide exact details into the schemes and strategies of the chief priests and scribes, their motivations appear to be clear, as they (and others within the ruling class) perceived Jesus as a threat to their power and thus needed to ensure his quick and clear elimination. As a result, due to the propaganda of the ruling elites, combined with an overly complicit public, just a short time after Jesus was welcomed as a king he was sentenced to death as a criminal.

While Luke’s Gospel provides countless lessons through the Palm Sunday narrative, one aspect that is worthy of further exploration is the ways in which the powerful elites were able to manipulate the masses through propaganda. In other words, the ruling class of Jesus’ day and age used their firm power to control the flow of communication, and in doing so the voice of Jesus – and his message of liberation (Luke 4:18-19) – was suppressed, and the minority elite retained its control over the mass majority. While the fears of Jesus’ disciples (and general public anxieties of retribution) played a significant role, one can argue that the primary reason for the massive shift in Jesus’ public approval was the influential propaganda of the ruling powers. While Jesus’ message of bringing “good news to the poor” (4:18) was in the best interest of the mass majority, the crowds bought into the various lies of the elites, turned against Jesus (and their own common good), and eventually cheered as Jesus was put to death.

In light of the propaganda that followed Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we are given striking lessons into our own resistance of mass manipulation. In our current day and age we recognize that the information we receive each day does not appear out of thin air, nor is it neutral, but it often has a defined agenda to inform and form our personal and public outlook and behavior. Whether the information we receive is from media outlets, multinational corporations, or political stakeholders, all too often the primary goal is not to empower people, but simply to remain in power over (and profit from) people. As a result, when we as a mass public agree to passively accept the information we receive without thoughtful critique and sustained investigation, such social submissiveness leads to the continued obstruction of our common good and a perpetuation of the gross inequalities we too often experience.

As the post-Palm Sunday crowds rejected Jesus’ message of liberation and love in favor of the fear and violence offered by the chief priests and scribes, the same is too often the case in our contemporary reality. Instead of reconciliation and cooperation we too often indulge in the offerings of division, hatred, and toxic vocabulary that is poured upon us by those who wish to remain in power. Instead of seeing the value, dignity, and sacredness of all life, we allow the propaganda of the powerful to seduce us into thinking that some lives are somehow more valuable than others, and that sacrificing some for the sake of others is somehow justifiable. All together, if we act under the influence of the dominant streams of propaganda, our actions will too often be contrary to our common good, and the result is the ongoing crucifixion of our companionship as communities.

As we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday and the Holy Week that follows, may we remember how the masses that surrounded Jesus in Jerusalem were manipulated, and in doing so, may we as “the crowds” of this day and age no longer apathetically accept the most dominant voices that surround us. Instead of allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those in control of communication, and rather than permitting those in power to profit off of our passivity, may we wake up, rise up, speak up, and act out in light of our common good and for the sake of our world. Instead of rejecting the various voices of our day and age that seek to set us free, may we allow God to loosen us from the chains, respond as a people reborn, and come together as communities of hope and light. The time is upon us to see the various forms of propaganda that surrounds us, resist the forces of mass manipulation that seek to suppress us, and by God’s grace, respond by reclaiming the vision of restoration that Jesus laid out before us.