When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
- Matthew 21:1-11
Today's reading depicts the events commemorated in the Church as Palm Sunday. At Jesus' time, there was tremendous expectation among the Jewish people of a political Messiah, a deliverer, someone who would reconquer the land, free it from all foreign (in this case, Roman) domination, and establish once again a kingdom of Israel - David's kingdom. Some expected this king to be a warrior-leader. My study bible notes that the miracles of Jesus, particularly that of the raising of Lazarus (as written in John 12:9-11), heightened expectations in some that Jesus was to be this political Messiah, who would re-establish David's kingdom.
But Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey. This is not a warrior's horse nor triumphal chariot. Rather, it is a sign of humility and peace. Jesus has spent so much time preaching about the laws of his kingdom: most notably about what constitutes power and greatness in this kingdom. In Friday's reading, for example, his apostles were most effectively taught the meaning of who was to be first, who was to be greatest among them. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." The apostles have been warned several times about what is to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus' act of riding a donkey into Jerusalem establishes once again the nature of this kingdom and its king. It is a kingdom of spiritual revelation, not political domination. It is a kingdom of love and service. It is a kingdom for which we need our eyes to be opened so that we may truly see. This is not an earthly king, but a King of Glory, whose kingdom is established through faith. My study bible notes, "Thus the Church sees the Son of God entering not the earthly Jerusalem only, but more importantly the celestial Jerusalem, to establish His reign and His Kingdom (see Mark 11:10; Luke 19:38). He is taking the new Jerusalem to Himself as a pure bride, and the children celebrate His entrance as if it were a marriage."
Matthew here reports a second animal with the donkey, a colt. We've seen an interesting doubling in some of the miracles reported by Matthew, such as in the previous reading, in which Jesus' last great miracle before coming to Jerusalem is opening the eyes of the blind. My study bible suggests that the addition of the colt, the second animal, may be symbolic of the Gentiles who will become a part of the faithful of this kingdom. That is perhaps a good explanation for the "doubling" of those who are healed in certain miracle stories in Matthew's gospel, which was originally written for an audience with many Jewish members.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is hailed as Messiah with the words of Palm 118:25, 26. These verses are associated with messianic expectation, and were very well known. They were recited daily for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as the feast of Booths, to which Peter refers in the passage on the Transfiguration when he suggests building tents or booths). Seven times on the seventh day of this festival, these verses were recited again as branches were waved. The Feast of the Tabernacles was the feast of the coming Kingdom. Hosanna means "Save [we] pray."
So we come to understand the importance of the lessons preparing us for this day of awaited expectation. A King of Glory enters Jerusalem, as a bridegroom comes to a bride. But we need the eyes to see to understand this king, and we need the ears to hear his message of humility as noted in the recent readings cited above. We remember what it is he asks of us, as we think about this scene of Jesus' triumphant welcome into Jerusalem. There were those who could not accept his message, and there were those who could. As we journey toward the Cross, will we think about faith and what it means? In the Greek word πιστις, there is no differentiation between these various meanings of faith, belief, trust. It is all of the above, so to speak. As Jesus goes to the events ahead of him, we will remember what it is to have faith, to trust and believe, and to love as well. What tests your faith, your spiritual sight and spiritual hearing? What opens these things up for you, even in the midst of trouble, that may follow so soon upon triumph?