So here we go. Jesus is finally entering Jerusalem. I love the way this episode begins; it reminds me of some bank heist movie: Jesus tells them to go into the village to find a specific colt to bring to him and that if anyone asks what they’re doing, tell them, “the Lord needs it”. It all seems so sneaky. What’s going on here is a custom where one could use another’s animal for a significant figure (maybe kind of like commandeering a vehicle). What it does is speak to is Jesus’ kingship in this famous scene. In Luke it says “colt”, but we’re often accustomed to thinking of a donkey. I’m not sure of the reason for this but all four Gospels account use the same Greek word, but it gets translated slightly different ways. What’s important is that it’s a young animal, untrained, and in this sense, not the kind of animal you would get for a king.
So here comes Jesus approaching Jerusalem riding on this colt. The people begin to line the streets, laying down their cloaks as a way of welcoming their king and crying out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Notice that in Luke there are no palms and no “hosannas”. It’s easy to assume all the Gospels tell these stories the same way because we mark them the same way every year, but it’s important to note those differences too.
From a liturgical standpoint it begs the question, “do we need palms on Palm Sunday?” Maybe we do only because we’ve chosen to call it “Palm Sunday”. In fact only John’s gospel mentions palms (Matthew and Mark do mention “leafy branches” but not palms specifically). As we’re studying Luke, maybe it would make sense not to have palms. Who decided that it was “Palm Sunday” anyway? How did a little detail that appears in one Gospel become one of the most significant points in the liturgical calendar. Why not call it “Donkey Sunday”? That could be fun. Or “Cloak Sunday”? Regardless of what we call it, and what we do, however, the point is still essentially the same: Jesus is entering Jerusalem near the passover, which is what the Messiah would do, and he is being anointed as such.
The strange thing, however, is what he’s riding: Kings don’t ride in on young colts or donkeys. They ride in on things like tamed stallions. This “Palm Sunday” scene is one we love to mark as the moment of celebrating Jesus as king. But, first, we have to remember how quickly those cries from the crowd of “blessed is the king” will turn to “crucify him”. And as he rides in on an untrained colt, we also must ask “just what kind of king is this?”
This scene is not over here. “Palm Sunday” does not end with cheers of celebration. The king is indeed entering the holy city, as he should, and what we need to pay attention to is how he is entering and what he will do when he gets there. Fasten your seat belts, everybody…