Monday, November 28, 2011

Tell the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey"

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:

"Tell the daughter of Zion,

'Behold, your King is coming to you,

Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,

A colt, the foal of a donkey.'"

So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:

"Hosanna to the Son of David!

'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'

Hosanna in the highest!"

And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."

- Matthew 21:1-11

In yesterday's reading, Jesus was walking through Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem. There, two blind man sat by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by them, they cried to Him, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!" The crowds told them they should be quiet, but they cried out yet again, the same cry. Jesus stopped, and said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened." So Jesus had compassion for them, and touched their eyes, and they were healed. They then followed Him toward Jerusalem.

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them. Here, Jesus prepares -- or rather, teaches the disciples to prepare -- for His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. It's important to remember the times in which Jesus lived, and the popular expectations of the people. Many wanted a kind of savior who would establish again the nation of Israel, the kingdom of David, and forcefully throw off the Roman rule. This would mean a kind of nationalist king, a great warrior. But Jesus' triumph looks a little different, to say the least. In fact, it is making a great statement about His kingdom and His rule. His men prepare, not with an army and a chariot and horses, but with a donkey and her colt. This kind of humble transportation told a story, and had nothing to do with the mobilization of an army.

All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" This quotation is taken from prophecy of both Isaiah and Zechariah. It teaches what the Church has held: this is indeed the Savior of Israel, and it tells us about the kingdom being proclaimed. This triumphal procession is not of a warrior with a physical army, but one who is humble. Matthew's gospel has given us a great deal of teaching on leadership and humility over the past two weeks. Jesus has been preparing the disciples for what is to come, and especially for leadership in His Church. (See especially the readings beginning here, through Friday's.)

So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" To welcome a great king, the Son of David, the One who comes in the name of the LORD, is to welcome the expected Messiah or Savior. (Hosanna means "save [we] pray.") We remember the popular expectation, the kind of nationalist king in the popular imagination -- and we see how Jesus enters. It is a combination of great king of Israel and humble and lowly. The welcome is from Psalm 118:25,26. (See the whole of Psalm 118 here. It is a psalm of great triumph of the nation of Israel, and reliance on the mercy of the LORD.) This psalm was well-known to the people. It was recited daily for six days during the Festival of Tabernacles -- the Feast of the Coming Kingdom. It was recited seven times on the seventh day of the festival as branches were waved. See also the Transfiguration reading for Peter's response to Christ's revealed divinity.

And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee." Jesus' entrance stirs the whole city, all must take notice of something happening, something which otherwise might be missed. He is "the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee" -- there is a humble statement! My study bible says that this humble Triumphal Entry is a declaration of far more than a mere earthly king. This is, instead, "the King of Glory who has come to reveal the Kingdom of God. 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. He is taking the New Jerusalem to Himself as a pure bride, and the children celebrate His entrance as if it were a marriage."

So, in this scene we have the kindling of many types of expectation. Will this be the new kingdom of Israel? Will they be saved from the Roman occupation, with its taxes and powerful rule? Will the kingdom of Israel be restored to what it once was? Will He be a king like David? But all of Jesus' teachings to His disciples over the recent readings have taught us quite a different sort of leadership. This is not the commander of armies but rather the commander of the hearts and souls. He is the One who has taught His disciples: "Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." And we recall that He has also prepared them for His Passion, death and Resurrection. But in this entry into Jerusalem, we see in Christ a combination of all of these things. He is King of kings and Lord of lords -- and His kingdom will have no end. He is received into Jerusalem, but He is also received into the hearts and souls of those who will come long afterward, and find in Him the leadership we need in order to draw closer to God. His salvation is for all of us, Jews and Gentiles, powerful and meek, those who can hear Him, and find value in His message. In this sense, the Triumphal Entry is not just a scene in Jerusalem from 2,000 years ago, but it reaches the heights of heaven, and it is timeless: it stretches for us to each moment we can accept His call, hear His words, follow His teachings. When we cry for "help" or to "save" or "have mercy" let us remember the two blind men on Jesus' way to Jerusalem, their shout in Jericho and the Hosanna of the people here. What are we asking for? What does our savior look like? How does He live for you today? Jew and Gentile, we are all in some sense the blind who ask that our eyes may be opened.