given on Palm Sunday, April 1, 2012–no fooling!
Who doesn’t love a parade? All the major holidays are connected to parades. The list includes the Rose Bowl Parade on New Years Day, St. Patrick Day parades, Easter (Bonnet or Hat) Parades, Memorial Day parades, Fourth of July parades, Thanksgiving Day parade, and of course Christmas parades with Santa as the feature. And these parades are just the most recognizable, but around our area there is the annual college homecoming parade and even the Chilhowee’s fair parade.
During Passover celebrations, communities filled with visitors. There was a carnival style atmosphere. People were everywhere, and the temple was busy with extra venders and spectators. The Jewish festival was a major event.
So why did Jesus, who has traveled the region by foot for three years, suddenly decide to ride into the middle of all the festivities on a donkey? Why did he decide to have a parade? Who was going to be watching the parade? What purpose would the parade serve? How will the people react?
In literature studies, readers become sensitive to imagery in the story. What could names, locations, colors, or items really be representing? Is the author trying to express a more significant message than the literal words are stating on the page? Reading literary analysis often adds another dimension to the theme; and reading the Bible that was written in such an entirely different cultural and historical context than what we live in today takes additional analysis.
Jesus’ ride is referred to as a “triumphal ride” into Jerusalem. For three years he has been walking the dirt roads of the region making an impression on those who joined him, who heard him speak, or who experienced his healing. Why would he decide to change his style and ride in on a donkey in a parade?
The answer lies in the prophetic words of Zechariah 9. The answer is found by studying the Word and the analysis. As we read through the scripture Zechariah 9:9-13, did you realize the significance of the parade? Maybe your understanding is connected to your acceptance of Christ’s role as our Savior, our spiritual king. Maybe you have already studied it and it is clear to you that the parade was simply part of the Big Picture. Maybe you had never connected the two and this is new information.
The Palm Sunday celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one more method to keep us centered on the good news. The study notes from the New Interpreters Bible carefully outlines the prophetic verse nine:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
To the Jewish onlookers, who have been thoroughly schooled in the Old Testament prophecies, seeing Jesus ride in on a donkey would have immediately told them that yes, indeed, Jesus was the Messianic King they expected to arrive and deliver them from their lowly state.
In the next verse, Zechariah 9:10, the image of the Messianic King is defined:
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
The battle bow shall be cut off.
He shall speak peace to the nations;
His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.’
Jesus is arriving on a donkey, not a horse. He is not using a chariot that was considered an image of warfare. Jesus, as the NIB states, “. . . knows that salvation comes to earth only through deflating the self, not through horse power.” Therefore Jesus rides in on a donkey, a symbol of peace, not of military might.
This kingly image was not what the Jewish people were expecting. Yet, the parade was placing the truth right there in front of them. There was cheering, praises, palm branches waving, and the crowds following him. For the Jewish still uncertain of whom Jesus was, the answer was being demonstrated to them. Surely they now would believe.
Now remember, everybody loves a parade. What if you were not Jewish and you heard the noise that was coming from the street? Wouldn’t you hurry to see what was going on? A parade can draw huge crowds. People who would not ordinarily attend a forum, a convention, a lecture, or any other formal setting may very likely be drawn to a parade. Put yourself in that position for a few minutes.
Never before have you considered following a religion. All your life you have been a Roman citizen and followed those customs. If you have a religious belief, you probably considered yourself a pagan. Of course that word sounds so negative, you simply have grown up with the Roman gods. You know them because their stories have explained the life circumstances around you:
- Apollo was the God of the Sun, poetry, music and oracles,
- Bacchus was the God of Wine,
- Ceres was the Goddess of Agriculture,
- Cupid was the God of Love,
- Diana was the Goddess of Hunting,
- Fauna was the Goddess of Animals,
- Flora was the Goddess of Flowers and Spring.
- Fortuna was the Goddess of Fortune,
- Janus was the God of Doors and beginnings and endings,
- Juno was the Goddess of Marriage,
- Jupiter aka Jove was the King of the Gods and the God of the sky and rain,
- Mars was the God of War
- Mercury was the Messenger of the Gods and of Commerce and Finance,
- Minerva was the Goddess of Wisdom, the City, Education, Science and War,
- Neptune was the God of the Sea,
- Pluto was the God of the Underworld,
- Saturn was the God of Harvest and Agriculture,
- Venus was the Goddess of Love and Beauty,
- Vesta was the Goddess of the Hearth and the Roman state, and
- Vulcan was the God of Fire, the Forge and Blacksmiths.
[Accessed on March 31, 2012 at http://www.roman-colosseum.info/roman-gods/list-of-roman-gods.htm.]
And this is just a list of the major gods and goddesses of the Roman pagan religion. There was a god or goddess identified for any facet of human life that needed explaining. I expect it was a very complicated religion.
Yet the gospel of Mark was particularly interested in telling the good news to those Romans who were listening and becoming Christians. His inclusion of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is almost word for word of that found in Matthew. Even the Romans knew the importance of a parade, so they were in the crowd, too. I am sure they were asking questions of the others trying to figure out what it all meant. For some, the openness of the event may have served as the final argument for becoming a Christian.
Now Luke presents the triumphal entry as evidence to Theophilus and other non-Christians. Jesus is portrayed as more authoritative than in the other versions. Luke states it like this:
. . . and it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, “Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’” (Luke 19:29-31)
Luke took on the responsibility of carefully and solidly explaining Jesus’ actions to those who did not have a Jewish background, who may or may not have been Romans, or who were Gentiles. Yet, in the city of Jerusalem the people walking the streets, living there, visiting, or working, the parade of this man on a donkey grabbed everybody’s attention.
The new Christians were there. They were stepping out of the shadows, so to speak, and raising palms to honor this man. Here was one man who was so compassionate, who was healing anyone’s affliction, and who was teaching such a simple way of life that sounded so appealing. Many had only heard of him, and today he was riding a donkey right down the streets, unafraid of the non-believer nor even the Pharisees or the Romans.
In John’s gospel, the report of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is rather brief and to the point. John wrote his gospel to the new Christians and to those just now beginning to be interested. He focused on the parade a bit differently. He focused on the reactions of the people following Jesus and the disciples:
. . . when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, [they] took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)
And John did not stop with his explanation of how the crowd reacted. He continues on to tell how the peoples’ reception of Jesus on the donkey triggered an even deeper understanding in his disciples:
. . . His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered what these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. (John 12:16)
Yes, everybody does love a parade. There is excitement, anticipation, and open conviction. Here was one man who was quietly moving around the area spreading the good news. He was sharing with everybody—Jew, Gentile, Pagan or other—that life on earth could be life in God’s kingdom. Life that had for centuries, even millennia, been difficult could be so delightful if we follow one simple rule: Love one another.
Why not use a parade to spread the word? If Jesus came through today, riding on a donkey, would you run out to join in? Would you be a believer who was so excited that you lifted up a palm—or flag– to wave in support of him? Would you bring as many palms in your hands as you could so you could share them with others, put some down on the ground so the donkey could walk on them, and even have some to wave in triumph yourself?
Today, Palm Sunday, we should have a parade. Instead, we quietly sit inside, talk about the Palm Sunday’s of our past, of how Easter will be a busy day, or whether or not the family is coming in for the Easter weekend. Today’s palms are here for you to share. Take them, wave them, and keep them with you during the week. The palms had a role in the original Palm Sunday; let it have a role in your life this week.
Dear Almighty, all-knowing God,
Thank you for your son.
Thank you for your grace.
Thank you for all the love shared
by your faithful children.
Guide us in sharing our faith openly.
Speak to us encouragement
so we confidently can demonstrate faith.
See our palms raised in your glory;
See our palms folded in prayer;
and see our palms shading others with your love. –Amen