You didn’t think the Palm Sunday episode could get darker but it did. I really think it does the story a disservice that we traditionally end our reading of this story at the moment of celebration from the crowd. The lectionary reading may end there, and your Bible may even put a break there, but the story doesn’t end there. I think where we go wrong with the Triumphal Entry is that we read it, we often preach it, and we plan worship around it through the eyes of the crowd and not through the eyes of Jesus. There is value in looking at it through the eyes of the crowd, but we don’t serve the story well when we don’t wonder about it through the eyes of Jesus.
Reading it through Jesus’ eyes gives it a dark and difficult, but important and meaningful tinge. These four verses break my heart. I imagine Jesus almost feeling defeated. He has come to bring reform and fulfillment to the faith, but rejection of him continues. There’s a lot happening here, but what stands out to me are two ways in which this “Palm Sunday” scene takes us right back to Advent and Christmas.
Jesus says, as he weeps over Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Remember way back in Luke 1? Zechariah prophesies about his own son John being the forerunner, or the preparer of the way for the one, Jesus, who is to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79, emphasis added). Jesus came, among other reasons, to guide Israel’s feet into the way of peace. As the climax of the story begins, and Jesus’ certain death looms, he weeps for Jerusalem who did not “recognize the things that make for peace”.
Then Jesus speaks to Jerusalem’s looming destruction, a potential prophecy of its fate 40 years out from this scene. Jesus predicts that Jerusalem’s enemies will “crush you… because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44). God came down to and for Israel, as Israel’s (and then ultimately the world’s) salvation and consolation (2:25-32), in the form a little baby born in Bethlehem called Jesus. Israel missed it. The plot to kill him is at hand. They missed it, and Jesus is grieved.
Let’s be clear, Jesus knows he’s going to die. He’s known it all along. But as I read this passage, I see a dejected Jesus. I see a Jesus who maybe held out hope that it could go differently, but this is the moment when he knows it’s not to be and it’s over. Herein is the irony and darkness of Palm Sunday. It is at the moment of his coronation that he knows it’s over and that he is going to die. You would think he would be riding high right now. He’s got the crowds behind him. But, no; he sees beneath the surface, and he knows that it won’t take much for those cheers of “blessed be the king” to turn to “crucify him”. So he pauses, he weeps, not for himself, but for Israel, and then he goes in.