Christ’s Entry to Jerusalem
Matthew 21, 1-11
While browsing the web recently I came across somethought-provoking reflections on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem given by Pope Benedict XVI over successive Palm Sundays from 2006 to 2012. I felt I could do no better than include some of these ideas in the following paragraphs.
First let us take Jesus as king. By sending for a donkey, Jesus claims the right of the kings of antiquity to requisition modes of transport. The use of an animal on which no one had sat previously is a further pointer to this right. Yet Jesus is making a statement totally at variance with that usually made by leaders of triumphal entries into cities at that time. Jesus is not coming to Jerusalem as a conquering king. Rather he comes as a messenger of peace. This is evident by his choice of animal, a donkey, an animal of peace – whereas the horse is an animal of war. We can imagine that this message possibly was not understood by curious onlookers from Jerusalem who might have been accustomed to more ambitious spectacles. In fact, it was not even understood by Jesus’ own followers who at times urged him to take strong measures against those challenging him.
A further idea from Benedict concerns the crowd. According to him, a close scrutiny of the Gospels would show that on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus had picked up quite a number of people who were ready to follow him and his teaching. A very useful word describing Jesus’ ministry beginning in Galilee is “movement”, a word meaning something that would spread, that had energy and dynamism. Jesus’ followers coming to Jerusalem were carried along by this enthusiasm and allowed themselves to organise a celebratory entry into Jerusalem to proclaim that their Jesus of Nazareth was the king, the prophet who was to come. The timing of the entry coincided with the Passover. The pilgrims already in the city found themselves caught up in the disciples’ enthusiasm. The spreading out of garments likewise belongs to the tradition of Israelite kingship. (cf. 2 Kings 9, 13). People plucked branches from the trees and cried out blessings from Israel’s pilgrim liturgy. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Then, how do we address the fickleness of this crowd? According to Benedict XVI, all four Gospels make it very clear that the scene of Messianic homage to Jesus was played out on his entry into the city and that those taking part were not the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but the crowds who accompanied him and entered the city with him. This point is made most clearly in Matthew’s Gospel through the passage immediately following the Hosanna to Jesus, Son of David: “When he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying: Who is this? And the crowds said: This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee (Mt 21, 10-11)”. People had heard of the prophet from Nazareth, but he did not appear to have any importance for Jerusalem, and the dwellers there did not know him. The crowd that paid homage to Jesus at the city gateway was not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion. That is also borne out by numerous references in the Gospel to the fact that Jesus’ disciples and followers deserted him when they saw that public opinion was going against him and that all he stood for seemed bound for failure. His own disciples and the people of Jerusalem were being truly disappointed at the manner in which He presented himself as Messiah.
Finally, we ask ourselves at home these days: where are we among the spectators of this entry of Jesus of Nazareth? As followers, let us have the courage and strength to continue faithfully believing in Jesus and His word in spite of apparent failure. We journey in his footsteps towards Calvary, travelling together and trusting within our hearts that He will lead us safely onward. In these days of uncertainty, waiting and concern, let us walk together with Him, aware that we are somewhat fearful of our future, but holding firmly to our belief that life will undoubtedly be changed and surely for the better.
Sr. Mary O’ Byrne OP