When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.
Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Today is Palm Sunday. The day we celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem — sometimes called the “Triumphal Entry.” This is a key story for Matthew. He’s been building his case that Jesus was doing and being what only Yahweh was supposed to do and be. The passage quoted from Zechariah sets up just that point.
In Zechariah 9, it talks about how Israel’s king will come and bring an end to war, speak peace to the nations, and the reign will extend “to the ends of the earth” (verse 10). This is significant because, according to Marcus Borg:
On Sunday, Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east in a procession riding on a donkey cheered by his followers. At the same time, a Roman imperial procession of troops and cavalry entered the city from the west, headed by Pilate. Their purpose was to reinforce the Roman garrison stationed near the temple for the season of Passover, when tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Jewish pilgrims filled the city.
The contrast between Jesus’ entry and the imperial entry sounds the central conflict that unfolds during the rest of the week. Jesus’ mode of entry was symbolic, signifying that the kingdom of which he spoke was a kingdom of peace. According to the prophet Zechariah, the king entering Jerusalem on a donkey was to banish the weapons of war from the land and speak peace to the nations. The kingdom of Rome on the other hand was based on violence and the threat of violence.
As I’ve noted before, Matthew’s telling of the story is that he sees Jesus as creation’s rightful “king” (or ruler or leader or CEO or Provost or president). But, according to Zechariah, the “king” that was coming into the city was none other that Yahweh. So, once more, Matthew is keen to point out that Jesus was being and doing those things that only Yahweh was to be and do.
It also points out that Jesus riding into the city on the donkey was a subversive act. He’s challenging Rome’s claim to be the world’s rightful ruler. This scene is nothing short of the first step in the “war” between Light and darkness; the Realm of G‑d versus the realm of Caesar. But, as noted above, Zechariah’s “king,” Yahweh, would banish the weapons of war and usher in peace. Therefore, the “king” Jesus would not be using the ways of Rome in this fight. And we know all too well what happens when one stands up to Rome. If not, just wait until the “rest of the story.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC