St Matthew 21: 1 – 11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
There are no palms in this reading for Palm Sunday but that doesn’t detract from the drama. From the start Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem is deliberately stage-managed. Jesus instructs the disciples with authority; he chooses not to approach Jerusalem on foot like other pilgrims but to ride a donkey like an eastern monarch, garments spread on the road before the beast in token of subjection. This is an intentionally symbolic action for the benefit of his disciples. Here surely is Israel’s king, coming to his kingdom.
Yet Matthew’s readers are also given to understand that this is not a military triumph. The animals are the clue. The strange image of Jesus riding a donkey and its colt is a cogent reminder that Zechariah’s prophecy (9.9) is now fulfilled. This king Jesus is Israel’s long-expected deliverer, the Messiah. As if there were any doubt, Matthew associates it with the joyful acclamation of the Messiah in Psalm 118. 25-26.
Jerusalem, however, does not understand that its king has come and prophecy fulfilled.
Jesus is acclaimed by those going with him to Jerusalem, not those inside the city and this anticipates upcoming events. In his Passion, he will be humiliated but in his Resurrection he will also be glorified.
How may we connect this story with our own situation? Like the first readers of the Gospel, we experience increasing uncertainty and latent fear of the future. Our context arouses fear of economic decline, increasing destruction of the natural world, wars rashly started with incalculable consequences. But as followers of the risen and glorified Christ we may with confidence face the challenges of the present in the triumphant hope of the Resurrection.
Fix in us the image of your Son in glory
To sustain us in the path of discipleship,
That we may pass over with him to newness of life.
May his name be blessed. Amen