Last night as a community we talked about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus on the Sunday before he was put to death. We looked at all four passages in the Gospel that point to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. One thing we discovered is that many are not very familiar with this passage. We felt that maybe why some were unfamiliar with the passage is that on Holy Week our eyes are focused on the cross, not the entry.
This is an amazing passage but it is a difficult passage to put our minds around. It is not a simple message to preach, although it is often preached simply.
Consider the Hero to Zero message. This one goes that on that Sunday the crowd showed up to watch Jesus parade into Jerusalem with his disciples. The crowds were excited to see this miracle worker. They had heard that Jesus had healed the leper, gave sight to the blind and just recently raised Lazarus from the dead. The crowd lines the street and as Jesus passes by they lay their cloaks on the street and wave palm fronds and cheer. But by the time Thursday night or Friday morning arrives the crowd turns on Jesus and demands that Pontius Pilate crucify him.
But I do not think this passage is that simple.
First let’s consider the donkey and/or colt that Jesus rode into town on. Jesus sends some of the boys (none of the Gospels name who he sends) ahead to get a donkey that has never been rode. They will find this animal tied up. In Matthew’s story there is a mommy donkey and a baby donkey (long complex story!). How did Jesus know there would a donkey tied up? How did he know the owner would be willing to give him away? Was it prearranged?
We are told that this ride into Jerusalem fulfills a prophecy made my Zechariah, 500 hundred years prior to Jesus’ birth. This was a tough time for the Jewish people. There is no Jewish king. They have become a province to Persia under King Dairus’ rule. There was this longed for hope for a new king, the messiah, the savior of the Jewish people.
Zechariah promises that times will get better for the Jews. “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This passage talks of a victorious king returning from battle to his people. Matthew quotes this passage but omits “righteous and victorious.” Why? Maybe the battle hasn’t been won, yet.
But we do see Jesus lowly, humbly entering the city on a donkey. This is a statement of peace. He is not entering Jerusalem on a chariot or on the back of a horse or in a tank. He is not coming into Jerusalem with his army carrying guns or knives or weapons of mass destruction.
Image the scene, imagine the people, imagine the smells, imagine the sounds. The crowd following Jesus is pumped up! But the city, those on the inside, is concerned. Matthew says that the city is stirred. Being stirred has a feeling of turmoil, like waiting on an expectant storm brewing on the horizon. It brings to mind a tornado in the Midwest. Or maybe like the earthquake warning heard 30 seconds before the big one hit in Japan.
So this peaceful entry of Jesus is welcomed by one crowd and feared greatly by another.
One writer (Chad Myers) describes it:
The bulk of the passage refers not to the event itself but to the organization, preparation, and planning. The movement described is complex; there is collaboration between the out-of-towners and the local resistance community. The political action is planned to coincide with a time when imperial power is blatant and feelings of resistance are high. The protest tools are low-tech and readily available, and the demonstration design is inclusive and participatory—there is no “audience.” Large numbers serve as security and protection for those who are identified and targeted as leaders.
At Passover, the liberation of slaves is celebrated with a pilgrimage festival to an occupied Jerusalem. Security is high and the situation volatile. In this fraught atmosphere the kingdom movement stages a performance that lampoons the Roman imperial procession. The “king of peace” is not a warrior but a peasant healer who comes riding not a war chariot but a donkey, and crowds fill the streets celebrating an alternative vision. Exciting, dangerous, transformative, participatory, nonviolent!