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.’ (Matthew 21:1-11, NRSV)
Jesus entry into Jerusalem is a thrilling and dramatic scene: Jesus’ quiet prediction of an available colt, the fulfilling of the prophet’s ancient words, crowds cutting branches and stripping off to pave the road, Jesus astride his symbol of humility. No wonder this ancient, holy, and contested city was in ‘turmoil’!
Turmoil. It seems like an apt description for this response to Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem. Before now he has spent his time in relatively unknown precincts. This did no harm to his reputation. He is readily recognised by the crowd’s simple description: ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an event. His choice of a donkey’s colt stands in stark contrast the transport of other leaders. Appointees of Rome travelled here with their stallions, embossed chariots, and armies of fear. After all, why waste an opportunity to display wealth and power?
But Jesus is not here to display such characteristics. If Jesus’ instructions to his disciples tell us anything, they tell us that he consciously chose to ride this symbol of humility.
Of course, such calculated symbols and impressions can not always be trusted. They have the potential to manipulate, to distract from other motives and intentions, to mask deep and secret desires for power and control.
There is a risk to what Jesus is doing. Riding this donkey through this prestigious city will look alarmingly hollow if it is not backed up with action. Jesus will have to live this humility if it is to gain traction.
Than again, perhaps it is as much a reminder to him of the purpose of this visit as it is a pointer for those who so eagerly surround him. Jesus is here to serve.
These people, it would seem, would go even further than merely proclaiming this one to be king. Given half a chance they would crown him. Their response seems so unplanned, so spontaneous, a movement of the people. They hail him as the expected ‘Son of David’ and proclaim his coming to be ‘in the name of the Lord’. Indeed, they insist that all heaven is singing ‘Hosanna’ beside them.
Humble, yes. Quiet and uneventful, no.
And as the gospel story unfolds we could be forgiven looking back at these events wondering how a week that includes this man’s crucifixion could possibly begin with such a promising, public, display of affection.
In only a few days the crowds will disperse to such a degree that Jesus will be alone, in the clutches of an all too easily manipulated crowd, and exchanged for a notorious murderer. They will no longer hail his coming as the hope of heaven. On the contrary, they will cry out for his for his very life.
And the one from heaven will give it.
Perhaps, in this dramatic scene, there are hollow and lifeless symbols: coats, branches, loud, spontaneous praises. But there is one symbol that was authenticated with action and sacrifice. The choosing of a donkey’s colt was a full, rich, and perceptive symbol that pointed to the very character of God.