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,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:
'Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.'"
"Hosanna to the Son of David!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."
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'
Hosanna in the highest!"
- Matthew 21:1-11
Yesterday, we read that as Jesus and the disciples went out of Jericho, headed toward Jerusalem, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!" Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!" So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened." So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.
Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent tow 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.'" The event described in today's reading is called Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The Church celebrates this day on Palm Sunday. At this point in history, Jewish nationalism was extremely high. Centuries of warfare and kingdoms fighting against kingdoms, finally culminating in Roman occupation, had left the people thirsting for a deliverer and a restoration of their nation. This nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah, someone who would deliver them from Roman control and who would re-establish David's kingdom. Jesus' deliberate display of humility shows what kind of deliverer He is, what kind of Messiah He is. It's not an earthly kingdom He is after. He rides on a donkey, not a horse, and not with an army with Him. This is a sign of humility and peace. The Gospel quotes from Zechariah 9:9. Matthew's Gospel, in common with the "doubling" we've noticed in other stories (such as in yesterday's reading about the two blind men), reports both a colt and a donkey. Traditional interpretation sees both animals as representing the faithful Jews and Gentiles who are brought together in Christ, in His kingdom.
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." The people spread their clothes in a manner of reverence to a King. Spiritually, says my study bible, this is interpreted as the need to lay down our flesh, even our lives, for Christ. Here the people quote from Psalm 118, associated with messianic expectation. These are words recited daily for six days during the Feat of Tabernacles (the feast of the coming Kingdom), and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved. Hosanna means "Save, we pray!" The people call Jesus a prophet. Until John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of a Messiah and the Kingdom, there had been no prophets in Israel for centuries. One can only imagine the expectations of the people here.
Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem as king and liberator. The expectations of the crowd run very high. He is the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee, an almost-impossible thing in terms of how Galilee was popularly viewed here in Jerusalem among the religious hierarchy, and particularly the view of Nazareth itself. But welcomed He is. It's overwhelming to consider the events Jesus has come to, the crisis point here, the meeting of expectations placed upon Him and the ways in which He is going to end His ministry. His Kingdom is not a worldly one. He doesn't come as military fighter or liberator. He's not a deliverer with an army. And on the other hand, neither is He merely a prophet. This Messiah is also Lord, He is God. How on earth to proclaim the truth about His life, His ministry, His mission, into this field of expectations placed upon Him? How to do so in Jerusalem with the religious authorities who are already His enemies and plot against Him? Could God really be incarnate as a man, as Jesus, this man from Galilee? Who can recognize the person who is Truth itself? He will fulfill neither the expectations of a worldly king and warrior, nor conventional understanding of the Messiah as an exalted man. This is something quite, and completely, different. He comes into Jerusalem to defy all expectations, bearing a gospel message of the good news of God's Incarnation and the inauguration of a spiritual kingdom that lives in each one through faith. How will it all come about? One might well consider these circumstances and reflect on Jesus' words from a recent reading: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." This is a seemingly impossible, improbable task. And yet it is His, and it is ours. The reality of this Kingdom and its message for us is always going to defy expectations. We may now have had two millenia of establishment of the Church as worldly institution, but the reality of the Kingdom is always something 'different' in our expectations and understanding. Insight and inspiration comes to us despite our understanding, and despite what we expect. The working of the Spirit can be surprising in our lives. The message of the Gospel can still take us by surprise, no matter how many times we may have read or heard. This is the truth of the spiritual Kingdom that permeates our reality, our consciousness, even our awareness of who we are within ourselves. It's the wind that "blows where it wishes, and we hear its sound, but we can't tell where it's come from nor where it's going" (John 3:8). It is the 'other' that yet works in our world, shaping and giving meaning and form and even definition to us, and yet we cannot fully contain it. Jesus is the ultimate improbability, and yet He was prophesied from ancient times, and is the One who "was foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Peter 1:20), the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). The reality of this Kingdom, the Paradise He's come to restore, is outside of time and space as we understand it. Our laws and rules and expectations don't necessarily apply. So Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the same way He has come into the world through the Virgin and the Holy Spirit, in the humblest of settings, as an outsider, looking for room for His message to be born into this world of great expectations and boundless speculation. He will defy each one of them. At the same time, He will establish a kind of hope that lasts through centuries of lifetimes, and in innumerable hearts and souls, as the light of the world. When things really look to be utterly impossible, let us remember this scene of Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and put our faith in this Kingdom and the working of the Spirit in our midst, within us and among us. It's not at all about our expectations, but it is all about our faith, and endurance.