Palm Sunday, Apr.5, 2020
Holy Week begins with the gospel of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44). "Jesus .. went ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives...," (The location is significant. The Mount of Olives is where Zechariah (4:1-11) said that the Messiah would appear.) "... he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt? ”They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
Jesus’ specific knowledge of a colt and the potential challenge was important to early Christians. As with the call of Nathaniel…("When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” "John 1:47-50)… and the woman at the well, (John 4:16-29) whose life he knew, though they had never met before…. the scope of Jesus' vision and his detailed and specific prophetic knowledge was awe-inspiring and made people believe. (It also raises the question of how much of his passion and death Jesus also foresaw.)
The gospel for Palm Sunday continues, "They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks on it and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”"
This reference to the king coming in the name of the Lord, quotes from Psalm 118:26, and indicates that the people welcoming Jesus saw him as the Messiah and they greeted him enthusiastically. They had heard something about Jesus as a teacher, healer, friend of the oppressed, as one who fed thousands and who had bested religious authorities in arguments. Many, perhaps most, imagined him to be an earthly ruler, like a latter-day David or Solomon, who would supplant the oppressive puppet regime of the Romans under Herod and Pilate. Their expectations were high, but uncomprehending.
The gospel continues, "they brought it (the colt) to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen."
Zechariah 9:9, one of readings for today had prophesized this very event.
"“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”"
As with the reference to the Mount of Olives, this prophesy pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. Of course, Jesus would have known of the prophesies and sought to fulfill them. In the gospel readings in the third and fourth Sundays of Lent he told the woman at the well and the man who had been born blind (John 9:35-39) that he was the Messiah. He appears to have understood himself this way… though it was not as the earthly king or ruler that the people had imagined.
Not all the bystanders were similarly enamored by Jesus. "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”" A paraphrase might be, “They speak a truth that is so obvious, that if they were to be silent, the walls of the city would be compelled to speak.” Jesus affirmed and accepted their praise.
We often overlook that Luke’s gospel for Palm Sunday ends on a distinctly somber note that contrasts with the elation of the crowd. "As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes." The city that Jesus wept over was not the stone walls and temple buildings but the people who inhabited them.
His phrase "If you… had only known on this day what would bring you peace... " is a comment that what they imagined would make them happy is "hidden from your eyes". Though they saw him, they did not grasp the significance of his message. Elsewhere in his gospels, "peace" was a blessing for a reversal of ways either through repentance (Luke 7:36-50) or healing (8:43-48). Some did, of course. But the rulers did not.
The passage for Palm Sunday concludes with another prediction by Jesus: "The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” " As with his earlier, accurate and specific predictions, he was foretelling the Roman’s destruction of the city in 70 AD. And as with the earlier, accurate predictions, this one reinforced the faith of early Christians.
Jesus’ prophetic powers and insights into people were a source of belief not only to his contemporaries but to subsequent followers, decades and millennia thereafter. His powers of foresight shape how we understand his passion and death and his intention to embrace it.
· If Jesus knew things about the lives of people (as with the Samaritan woman at the well) and he knew situations in advance (as with the donkey tied up in a village) we believe that he also knew about what awaited him at the end of the week as he entered Jerusalem. If so, how would it have affected the way he responded to the crowds? What would he have wanted his disciples to reflect on?
· Does the thought of Jesus’ prophetic and insightful power in your own life challenge you? If so, do you sometimes wonder about your historic and present pursuits of what would bring you peace? Does his ability to read hearts and minds confront you with unpleasant truths? (It often scares me.)
· Based on Jesus’ healing, feeding thousands and his teachings how do you imagine that you would have greeted him as the Messiah, as he entered the city? How does our knowledge about his passion and death affect our understanding of the welcome? Do we dismiss it as insincere? As misguided? (We know that he was and is the Messiah. In that, their welcome was accurate.)