Texts: Matthew 21:1-11 (Palm); Matthew 27:11-54 (Passion)
Matthew 21 (NIV)
Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King
21 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “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.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 27 (NIV)
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
You can’t separate Palm and Passion Sunday. You can’t separate the Jesus welcomed as “Son of David” to shouts of “Hosanna” from the man crucified as the “King of the Jews” alongside criminals. They are the same man, the same God, and part of the task of Easter is finding comfort in this duality and leading those who listen to your sermons or your podcasts or who read your blog or your devotions, or the people you share a breakfast or dinner table with to find comfort and meaning in this apparent dichotomy.
In fact, I would say the main task is coming to a realisation that there is no dichotomy at all, but that this is merely the reality of a suffering servant king, glorified.
For years Jesus’ ministry led him to this point: entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, bringing to bear the words prophesied by Zechariah (in Zechariah 9:9): “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you: triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey.” Jesus enters the city near the time of the Passover; perhaps even at the same moment that, on the west side of Jerusalem the governor Pilate and his detachment of soldiers are entering with great pomp and fanfare in a show of power meant to cow the Jews during their most important religious festival, a festival commemorating their liberation from an oppressive power.
The contrast couldn’t have carried more of a kick had Jesus employed a skywriter to spell it out: Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah, was different, and so was the Kingdom he had been proclaiming. Jesus was the new liberator, and this time he would lead the whole world in an exodus from sin and death and oppression, into a chosen land of grace, inclusion and service.
The people who had been travelling with Jesus knew this already; the majority of whom were probably poor peasants and social outcasts. They were the ones who spread garments and fronds over Jesus’ path, as one would for a king. This perplexed the Jerusalemites, the ones living in the seat of their nation’s wealth and power and who probably constituted the religious and economic top brass. Who was this man riding in on a donkey? “A prophet,” they heard, “from Nazareth in Galilee.”
These weren’t impressive credentials by any stretch of the imagination. Galilee was an area heavily populated with Gentiles, and so considered a sort of Jewish backwater. Nobody bragged about being from Galilee… Except for Jesus. Galilee – a poor area with frequent revolts against the Roman oppressors – represented exactly the people and the oppression Jesus had come to lever his Kingdom against.
We find ourselves, two thousand years on, still needing to ask this most fundamental question: who was this man riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey? We ask it on Palm/Passion Sunday so that during passion week we can rediscover the answer: he was a king and a prisoner; a servant and an offering and a sacrifice; he was the Christ. There are no contradictions in his character because his character is love.
Blessings for your holy week,