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Today’s text selections continue the story of the arrest, torture and execution of Jesus (chapter 19) and also retell the story of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (chapter 12). The latter is what we commonly call Palm Sunday. It marks the entry into Holy Week – the week we retell the curious and troubling story of how Jesus goes from universal acclaim to public execution on a cross in one week.
Jesus enters into Jerusalem on colt or donkey. It was the common beast of burden…the animal that a poor man might own and ride. He comes into the capital city, the heart of the Israelite nation to acclamation with the waving of Palms and chants of “Hosanna!” Palms were common plants and trees in the land (they still are today). The branches were woven together to make roofs for the booths of the Feast of Tabernacle – a thanksgiving-type of holiday that focused on the coming of the Messiah. So as the crowd waves the palm branches they are indicating not just attention and excitement, but messianic anticipation. Hosanna is a Hebrew word which means Please Save us God! [יָשַׁע- “yasha” which means “to save or deliver” and אָנּאָ – “anna” which means “please, I beseech.”]. (more) So the crowd isn’t just holding up lighters at a great concert to celebrate the moment – they are crying out for justice, deliverance, help, for God to save them!
All this happens and is retold by John using the images and language of the Roman Triumph. This is what our ticker-tape-parades date back to. It was when a general, or emperor, of Rome would return to the capital of the Empire after a victorious military campaign. Everyone would turn out to watch their parade-like entry or “triumph.” The great military man would enter last after troops, and all the foreign enemies that they had subdued tied in chains and shamed before the Roman people. He (as it was always a man) would ride in not on a colt, or a camel, or a small horse, but on a mighty steed. Just like rich and famous people don’t come to events in Fords, but rather in Mercedes and Teslas. John seems to retell the story of the entry of Jesus into the capital as a story that subverts and turns upside down (challenges) the political power of Rome, and the story it told of itself and its emperors as the Lord of Lords.
John 19 tells of how Pilate gets the last laugh in his tense dispute with the religious leaders at the trial of Jesus. They say he’s claimed to be king, so Pilate has the title of King placed over the cross on which Jesus is executed publicly as a revolutionary terrorist and heretic. We can ask if he’s mocking Jesus as well, or maybe he really doesn’t get what he’s doing?
Questions for Reflection & Examen:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in these texts?
• What questions does this story of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus spark in you?
• How could the crowds go from acclaiming Jesus as the King of Kings to canceling him – wanting him executed publicly in the most shameful way possible in only 6 days?
• What invitation do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you – or to us, as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this word of scripture?