Saturday, August 15, 2009


When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

- Mark 11:1-11

As Jesus enters into Jerusalem, the stage is openly set for confrontation with the leaders of both the Jews and Gentiles. We must remember that we have been preparing for notions of humility and power recently until this moment. Jesus has been teaching his disciples about "he who would be greatest among them" - about notions of service and greatness. He has made expressions of gentleness and loving care to the least among them and taught about how the most meek followers must be treated, Jesus has also made open loving references to small children. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and greeted as Messiah, there are references at once to messianic signs and inheritance of King David's kingdom, and yet he symbolizes deliberately humility and peace.

I read in my study bible that riding on a donkey specifically symbolizes peace. Jesus enters Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (where David took sanctuary and prayed). The Mount of Olives was, significantly to my mind, the crossing place for the scapegoat. But most significantly for our passage, it is the expected place of the Messiah's entry into Jerusalem. So, Jesus is sending specific signals of messianic nature, openly as he enters into Jerusalem. He is greeted with the phrase using the word, "Hosanna," also a Passover greeting or blessing with messianic significance. It means, "Save now" from Psalm 118:25.

But there is also something different and unexpected about this messianic entry into Jerusalem. Jesus has commanded his followers to find him a donkey to ride. He does not enter triumphantly as a kingly ruler in a chariot, nor as a warrior or conqueror on a horse. The donkey is not a symbol of worldly power. Jesus enters as a man of peace, a messiah of peace if you will. Also, an animal that has never been ridden is one fit for a messianic act. Jesus has specifically taught his disciples in recent acts, that they are not to "Lord it over" others as do Gentile rulers, and here his symbolism in his act of confrontation also includes deliberate humility and overtures of peace, not war and not nationalist or political ends.

The people respond, we note, appropriately to a messianic entry into the city. Their cries of "Hosanna" make it clear that Jesus is being welcomed with great expectation, indeed, from the crowds. So, the stage is set for confrontation, and it is the beginning of his last week. Jesus enters the temple as his first act, but it is late and the temple is deserted. So, with great fanfare, and with people responding to his disciples' command that "the Lord needs" a donkey's colt which they willingly accept to give, Jesus' acclaimed entry into Jerusalem begins. But when this particular Messiah arrives at the temple it is deserted, empty. Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem is symbolic of a deeper spiritual act - not that of the triumphal military conqueror or ruler, but rather the entry into the celestial Jerusalem of a spiritual messiah, a man of spiritual peace. That empty temple, deserted, is an anti-climactic end to this day and Jesus goes out to his friends at Bethany. The temple's emptiness seems to ask the questions: Who will be there for him? Who are the faithful? It is like a riddle that is waiting to be solved, and continues to wait for its answer. It is always an open question for all of us. Who will enter that temple?

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