Gleanings from the Text
There are interesting juxtapositions that we find in this section of Mark. Immediately before our text is an account of the healing of Bartimaeus, a blind man in Jericho. When he hears that Jesus is passing through, more than once this man shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He throws off his cloak in coming to Jesus to regain his sight. As Jesus comes down the Mount of Olives, there is more shouting. This time a crowd shouts, “Hosanna,” which in addition to being an expression of praise, is also a call for mercy – ‘Save, now, we pray.’ There is mention once again of their ancestor, David, along with quotes from the Psalm 118. Cloaks are once again mentioned, this time as being placed on the colt Jesus is riding or on the road before him. The pilgrims coming to Jerusalem were gathering for Passover, a celebration of deliverance. Bartimaeus is delivered from his blindness and he follows Jesus on the way; would that we could clearly see what is happening as Jesus enters Jerusalem, so we can follow him faithfully.
Prior to Jesus’ entrance, there are details about obtaining what he would ride into town. Zechariah 9:9 calls upon Zion to rejoice upon the entrance of her king, who triumphantly but humbly rides on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Surprisingly, the account is more descriptive about details of the donkey and the donkey detail sent to obtain it than it is about the entrance into the city. Jesus is very purposeful in how he will enter. “The one who comes in the name of the Lord” stays in Jerusalem just long enough to go into the temple to look around before heading back to Bethany, where he had started earlier in the day. More focus on the temple is yet to come.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest there was not only a procession from the Mount of Olives on the east that day, but also a Roman procession entering from the west, which would have had as a focal point the Roman governor named Pontius Pilate. The juxtaposition of these two processions would have set up quite a contrast. One came as an expression of empire and military occupation whose goal was to make sure oppressed people did not find deliverance. It approached the city using horses, brandishing weapons, proclaiming the power of empire. The other procession was quite a contrast, using a donkey and laying down cloaks and branches along the road. The one who was coming in the name of the Lord quietly, but profoundly, proclaimed the peaceful reign of God.
Food for Thought
There are not only challenging juxtapositions in the text, but also in our church observances of Holy Week. If we move directly from a Palm Sunday procession to an Easter parade, we will have missed the story and experience of the passion that is more than a part of the deliverance offered by the One who comes in the name of the Lord. How then can we proclaim our praises with palms and psalms, yet move beyond a focus solely on the procession? Mark emphasizes the mode and the manner of the entrance over the procession itself. How Jesus enters Jerusalem is the focus. Will the way we celebrate that entrance be a further proclamation of the peaceful reign of God?
Sink Your Teeth Into This
My wife went into labor with our first-born right after the worship service on a Palm Sunday thirteen years ago. She was in the bell choir that played that day and we wonder about the vibrations that might have led to the time of a significant entrance into our world. It was a painful, joyous time – an entrance with ramifications we did not fully understand, but that offered great hope. Another interesting juxtaposition – Palm Sunday and new life! What was the baby’s name? Grace!
Borg, Marcus and Crossan, John Dominic, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, HarperOne, 2007.
Kirby Lawrence Hill is Pastor of Warner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Maryland. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1984 and has previously served churches in Memphis and Atlanta.