Text: Mark 11:1-11 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
11 And when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth′phage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 2 and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. 3 If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it. 5 And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. 8 And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”
11 And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
I found this passage on the website “jezuiti.sk”, which I’d like to share with you, as it really helps put us in the picture of what happened that first Palm Sunday:
“Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion. Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts … Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust . The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.”
Pilate’s procession was about overpowering. Jesus’ procession was about empowering.
A very stark contrast, and today is indeed a day of stark contrasts. It is, on the one hand, a day of gold, and, on the other, a day of lead, as it foreshadows what’s to come on Good – that is to say, God’s – Friday.
Day of gold.
In today’s lesson from Mark, we read about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we’ve heard and read so many times. If you listen carefully with the ears of faith, we hear a distant roar, then cheering, and then we see crowds of people in colorful clothes from all over the Empire lining the streets, waving palm fronds. We can feel the crush of the crowds in the narrow streets as they gather along Jesus’ route. We feel the heat of the day. We smell the dust of the street. We are taken up in the excitement of the moment, and we, too, climb a tree to break off a palm branch to lay in the road. And we join in with the rest of the crowd in crying with one voice: “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
“Hosanna.” “Help us!” “Hosanna!” “Save us!” The people who greeted Jesus on that day were, at the same time they were lavishing praise and adoration on him, also calling upon him to save them – they recognized that he was not just a great leader, not even just a King – they knew full well that this Jesus was indeed their Messiah.
And certainly, Jesus entered the city of David in a royal way. It’s no accident that he rode into town on a donkey. He did that to symbolize the truth that he was, in fact, a King. He was descended from the Royal House of David, after all. He accepts the title and the people’s praise. We remember that when Solomon became king, he, too, rode into the royal city of Jerusalem on his father’s (King David’s) favorite mule. Now Jesus, a far greater Son of David, rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.
Even the type of donkey was carefully and specifically chosen. Jesus tells his disciples to bring him a donkey colt that had never been ridden before. Why is this important? Because only animals that had never been used as beasts of burden were considered suitable for sacred purposes. And that’s what this occasion was. A great conquering hero-king would have ridden into Jerusalem on a warhorse, flanked by his minions of armed and fearsome soldiers. Jesus rode into town on a donkey with his rag-tag bunch of fishermen, not to fulfill the military aspirations of the people – though that’s what most people wanted: A warrior Messiah who would get rid of those Romans, once and for all. But Jesus came to bring to his people something far greater – the Reign of God.
The disciples themselves got caught up in the excitement. When they saw him getting ready to mount the donkey, they perhaps remembered that ancient story of Solomon, and maybe something clicked inside them, and they began to think that maybe all those hopes they had been harboring for so long were actually, really about to come true. Could it really be happening here, before their very eyes? They maybe didn’t know exactly what was about to happen; all they knew was that they wanted to be there to see it. So they added their excitement and anticipation to the excitement and anticipation of the crowd.
They added to the pomp and circumstance a bit by throwing their cloaks over the donkey’s back, to make the donkey look a bit more presentable, if not exactly royal. They perhaps stirred up the excitement by saying to people of the crowd, many of whom already knew about Jesus, “He has proclaimed himself King!”
And then the people of the crowd join in – throwing their cloaks onto the dusty road, breaking off palm branches, waving them in the air like banners, and then throwing them onto the road, too, all to honor Jesus. The palm branches are significant – the last time Israel had been independent had been a century before, under Judas Maccabeus, known as “The Hammer,” who had led Israel to victory and become king. He had adopted the palm branch as a symbol of his victory, so when the crowds placed palm branches in Jesus’ path, it’s not just because they were readily available. They were making a statement to the world, and certainly to the Romans: Our King has come. Our time is at hand! Watch out! We’re back!
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Lord, we praise you! Lord, save us! Lord, help us!
But then, at the end of the very same week, came the day of lead. The day of dread. Good Friday. In many churches, including ours, the lectionary provides two sets of readings, one having to do with Palm Sunday, and the other having to do with Jesus’ Passion, as many people can’t make it to church on Good Friday, so they give us the option to observe it on the Sunday before Easter. However it’s done, it is very important that we do observe Jesus’ Passion, because without an understanding of it, Easter’s meaning and impact are lessened, if not lost altogether.
So: The Day of Lead.
“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land[a] until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Eli′jah.” 36 And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Eli′jah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.” (Mk 15:33-37)
Once you have cut a palm branch off of a tree, it doesn’t live long. So it was with the excitement and the adulation of the crowds, and even with the excitement and confidence of the disciples. A few days later, when the day we call Good Friday rolled around, the same voices that had been shouting “Hosanna!” were now shouting “Crucify him!” Their adulation had evaporated. Their faith in Jesus was shallow and based entirely on what they wanted Jesus to do for them. Even the disciples turned tail and ran from the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas and the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Not only did they scatter to the four winds when push came to shove, they repeatedly denied they even knew Jesus. It wasn’t just Peter who denied Jesus; they all did. “Jesus? Jesus who? Oh, you mean that crazy guy from Nazareth? The guy who made that big scene last week? No, I don’t know him.”
Certainly it seemed to everybody that the great hope Jesus represented was over. He’d been arrested, dragged from the Garden of Gethsemane, scourged – another way to say “tortured” – beaten, degraded, interrogated, and imprisoned. Not exactly the red-carpet treatment for a king.
Worst of all, he had been betrayed.
We all think we know everything we need to know about Judas, the Betrayer. He was the guy who turned on Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. What else is there? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Judas was not just one of the disciples. He was one of the most important of the disciples. Judas was the one who was given charge of their common moneybag. Anybody who’s ever been part of a business or any other organization that handles money knows that you don’t hand over the cash to just anybody. It’s a position of responsibility and great trust. Judas was that guy for them. Judas seems to have been not only their paymaster, but also their organizer, their “go-to guy” for everything they needed day-to-day. Judas seems to have been the one who took care of provisions, perhaps the disciple in charge of scouting out where Jesus and the disciples were going to stay at night when they were on the road. He was important to the disciples. He was important to Jesus.
But a moment of weakness and 30 pieces of silver changed all that.
Why 30 pieces of silver? Why not 20? Or 40? Or 100?
In Exodus 21:32, we read about the law pertaining to property that states that if someone’s ox kills a male or female slave, the owner of the slave is entitled to compensated with 30 pieces of silver (or silver shekels). So, in other words, the life of Jesus was worth only as much as the life of a slave, in the opinion of the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees.
Why did he do it?
According to the Gospel of John, one of Judas’s big weaknesses seemed to be money. In the passage where Mary, the brother of Lazarus anoints Jesus’ feet with “a pound of costly ointment,” Judas has a fit: “’Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it.” It certainly is true that his name has become synonymous with betrayal, deceit, and thievery.
Others say that Judas turned Jesus in out of bitter disappointment. There is a school of thought that says that Judas was a member of a radical group called the “Sicarii,” and that “Judas Iscariot” really means “Judas [of the] Sicarii.” This group worked tirelessly to harass the Romans, including through assassination. Such a person even more desperately than others wanted a warlord Messiah, one who would literally sweep into Jerusalem and get rid of those hated Romans. They wanted another Judas Maccabeus, another “Hammer.” What they got was a rabbi who talked about turning the other cheek and forgiving your enemies. According to this theory, it finally got to be too much for Judas, and he cashed in.
A lot of ink has been spilled over the years about why Judas did what he did. No matter what the motivation was, whether greed, or disappointment, or a prisoner exchange gone bad, or collusion, Judas was doing the work of God. He was the perhaps unwilling, perhaps unwitting, agent of God’s Divine Love. At the end of the day, we are left with one inescapable fact: Judas betrayed Jesus. And Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified.
The terrible day of wrath and judgment could not be avoided. For without it, the Day of Resurrection would not have been possible. And that Great Day of Eternal Life is before us, just around the corner.
Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord of both the living and the dead. As the Son of God, he atoned for your sins, my sins, our sins. In the coming week, let us honor Jesus, our Lord and God in our hearts as we take the last few steps of our journey, from Golgotha to the Empty Tomb!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. AMEN.