Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
"Hosanna!Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'
The King of Israel!"
"Fear not, daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey's colt."
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!"
- John 12:9-19
Yesterday, we read that the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, "What do you think -- that He will not come to the feast?" Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him. Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always."
Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus. It is Passover, the third Passover recorded in John's Gospel, the final year and final week of Jesus' ministry. Let us note, as does John, that Lazarus has now become a target because of the extraordinary nature of the seventh sign in this Gospel, the raising of Lazarus, and the faith that resulted. Jesus and Lazarus have become public attractions at the festival in the temple at Jerusalem.
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem . . . My study bible says that earlier Jesus had come to Jerusalem in a hidden, private way (7:10). But now He enters the Holy City publicly.
"Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' The King of Israel!" Hosanna is a liturgical shout which means "save now." (See Psalm 118:25,26). The entire Psalm from which this is taken is a Psalm of praise for God's mercy. It includes another quotation that Jesus uses in confrontation with the leadership: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt." My study bible says, "Jesus' deliberate action of riding in on a donkey signifies He is the prophesied Messiah of peace (Zech. 9:9), for kings and military leaders rode on horses or in chariots. The Triumphal Entry marks a high point in Jesus' ministry as He brings His message to the Holy City and encounters the central authorities. This event is celebrated on Palm Sunday, an acclamation of the lordship of Christ as King of kings."
His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!" The words of the Pharisees here strangely echo the prophesy made by Caiaphas in his position as high priest earlier, when he suggested that Jesus be put to death. At that time, he told the leadership: "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish." John tells us that "this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad." Here, "the whole world has gone after Him!" paraphrases His role as gatherer of the children of God from the whole of the world.
Ironies abound in John's Gospel. Here, Jesus is welcomed as King and Messiah, but we know what is coming. And Jesus has repeatedly warned His followers, His disciples, what is to come. For the moment, the scene is one of a joyful welcoming into Jerusalem. But those in power have other ideas, and they will do what they will do. We often wonder in our lives why "bad things happen" to spoil plans, to make a "fly in the ointment." We get stuck in thinking about "if only" this or that hadn't happened. But the whole of the Gospel doesn't shrink from the flies in the ointment. It faces the problems of the world fully and squarely on, and invites us to take stock of the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. Many people criticize faith as "pie in the sky," or some sort of projection of how we wish things would be or could be. We take comfort in a God who loves us in a way that is personal and tender, and this becomes fodder for those who would claim that this is simply a desire, a construction, of something we wish were true. But that cannot be and is not the perspective of the Gospel. St. Augustine, from whom I've quoted several times through this Gospel's readings, sums it up very perfectly when he points out repeatedly in commentaries that God -- the good -- will use even evil things for good purposes. And that is looking the world in the face, accepting all that is, and understanding that faith asks of us to trust in this: that there is a way forward through all things that is the way of faith, the way of the good. Jesus "marches" triumphantly into Jerusalem, a lowly leader sitting on a young donkey, and those who greet Him do not do so with might and majesty befitting a king, but with joy and what is at hand. He has no retinue of soldiers and armies, there are no weapons raised in salute to a mighty warrior here, but palm branches instead. He was and remains supremely human. The Gospel asks us to look at our own humanity and vulnerability, to make of it what we will, and to accept this place of reliance on God in an imperfect world. What we are promised is that we, too, follow in His way. We are called to witness, as imperfect vessels, as children of God. But in that calling is our highest order, our greatest blessing, to be like Him.