Cowardice and Courage: Reflections on Palm/Passion Sunday
Lectionary Reflections for Palm/Passion Sunday
Luke 19: 28-40
April 13, 2014
A Steady Course
For some time now, Jesus has been headed toward Jerusalem. He has been predicting his final days and death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:21-22; 13:31-35; 18:31-33). He has been on a steady and courageous course as he moves toward the consequences and culmination of his bold ministry. Jerusalem should not be news to his disciples.
Today, on Palm/Passion Sunday, Jesus enters the city in what most scholars believe is a deliberate, symbolic act meant to evoke Zechariah 9:9. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is recounted in all four gospels. It seems that Matthew and Luke relied heavily on Mark's earlier account, but added details that may have come from another source. John's account reflects the theological agenda of the fourth evangelist with its variant chronology and theological themes. The core of the story in all four places is the same: that at the beginning of the final week of his earthly life, Jesus rode into Jerusalem seated on a donkey and was hailed by the crowds who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover feast with shouts of "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" as they anticipated the coming of the kingdom of God.
At the time of the recording of the entry into Jerusalem, about two-thirds of the way through the first century, Israel was under Roman rule. The Roman general Pompey had conquered Jerusalem and deposed the King. The Jews chafed under the yoke of Roman rule, and their rebellion resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. At the time of the last week of Jesus' life, Israel seethed with unrest, its people yearning for a messianic deliverer who would once and for all restore to Israel the throne of David and establish God's Kingdom in the land.
Jesus knew the prophecies of the book of Zechariah in which Zechariah spoke of a shepherd appointed by God over His people. When he mounts a donkey's colt and rides down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, Jesus is deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah chapter 9, verses 9-10.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;
And the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The triumphal entry shows us how Jesus identified himself with the Shepherd-King predicted by Zechariah who would bring not military victory, but peace. This has been his journey and his conviction all along. And now, as he enters on a donkey, Luke tells us "the whole multitude of the disciples praise him." While the motif of praising God appears in all four gospel accounts, it is especially prominent in Luke. It hearkens back to the praises of the angels (2:13) and the shepherds (2:20). In Acts, and also by Luke, praise is emphasized as the core of Jesus's message (Acts 10:36) and the appropriate response to that good news (Acts 2:47; 3:8).
The people spread their cloaks and leafy branches on the road for Jesus to ride over like a red carpet, an action reminiscent of the way the crowds spread their cloaks on the ground in 2 Kings 9:13 when Jehu was anointed King of Israel. They cut palm branches and other leafy plants, as was the custom of Jews for other celebrations and festivals, and threw them in Jesus' path. (Craig, "The Triumphal Entry")
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.