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The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem adored by a crowd is one of the episodes recorded in every gospel. But what’s it really about? In hearing it I remember the procession we’d do with a real donkey and one lucky kid when I was young at in Sunday School. However it has to be more than just a hallmark-y moment of joy and acclamation for it to have become so paramount in the remembering and retelling of the life of Jesus.
The four gospels retell the same basic story, with some minor variations . See Mark 11:1-10, Matthew 21:1-9 and Luke 19:28-38 to compare. John’s retelling of the event is different in how he closely links the events of Palm Sunday with the resurrection of Lazarus. The great crowd that is present, that is swarming, and seems to be deserting the religious “establishment” of the priests to follow after Jesus seems to issue forth from Bethany, the site of the raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-57.
Within the text John tells us that there are layers of memory and remembering both present and taking place. Looks at verse 16. This is a retelling of the story. John is re-telling and remembering this day in light of the resurrection of Jesus and what came later. The implication is that it was confusing, chaotic or misunderstood as it happened. Possibly it’s only in retelling the story that it begins to make sense to us, or that it is opened to us – like some sort of a nut that must first be cracked before it can be savored.
The crowds shout out verses from Psalm 118:26 (verse 13) and Zechariah 9:9 (verse 15). The events of the day can only be understood through the lenses of scripture from the past. Scholars tell us that Jerusalem was a powder keg of people gathered together to celebrate the festival (Passover) – the national holiday of the Jews (both patriotic and religious). I’ve heard the city on that week compared to Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Can you imagine how tense the occupying Roman troops were…the capital city swarming with religious pilgrims celebrating, remembering and re-telling the story of God delivering them to freedom from slavery in Egypt? What a perfect context for a revolution or at least a good skirmish.
But Jesus doesn’t come into the capital on a tank, or with guns blazing, or even at the head of an army ready to take on the Romans. Rather he arrives accompanied with a crowd of those who have seen, or just heard about, what happened with Lazarus in Bethany. Gossip is running rampant. People are excited. Could it be? Is he the One? Could it finally be happening?….While the people are ecstatically expectant, the leaders seem worried about their own skins. They’re jealous of the success of Jesus, fearful that it’s either him or them. He’s destabilizing their dreams of stability. So he, just like Lazarus, has to go. Jesus is simultaneously celebrated as a savior and a revolutionary, a man of the people and one who has to die in order for the people to be controlled.
Questions for going deeper:
1. What word grabs your attention in today’s selections?
2. How do you struggle with the identity of Jesus?
3. How does the message and person of Jesus destabilize your expectations, desires and dreams?
I so want Jesus to be the one to meet my needs, and the needs of my family; after all, he raised Lazarus from the dead, because Lazarus’ family asked him to. But he seems to have other plans, for his followers, for the mobs, for the Romans. And for us.