In the gospel for Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11) Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. His words and actions are understated, and the gospel ends anticlimactically. Here it is in its entirety.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
My reaction when I first read it was to wonder “what am I missing? What is this episode telling me about Jesus?” So, I listed the questions that the gospel raised for me.
With these “tools” in hand I started looking for answers. (The number sequence refers to the questions above.)
1. Jesus’ foreknowledge of the colt may not have been the result of prophetic vision. Rather it suggests that Jesus had thought through the details of his entry (and the whole week of Passover) and made a prior arrangement with the owner of the colt. (This is consistent with another event that happens later in Mark, when Jesus instructs his disciples to locate a specific upper room prepared for Passover (Mark 14:12-16). Prepared rooms would have been at a premium for the Passover and would not be sitting vacant.) It seems likely that Jesus had planned carefully and made arrangements with the owner then instructed his followers to follow through.
2. Likewise, acting out of the theme in Zechariah was a deliberate act on Jesus’ part to fulfill the messianic prophecy. It also says that Jesus was conscious of his role as fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew scripture, specifically Zecharieal 9:9Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.In Jesus’ awareness of scripture, the arrangements for the colt and the planning for the large, furnished, upper room, we see a person who anticipated situations and planned how to address the needs in advance. He appears to have had an attention to detail…as well as a sense of mission.
3. Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus had told his disciples to “tell no one” about his Messiahship. Perhaps he knew that his disciples had much to learn and that they could not handle the distraction of his public acknowledgement of his messiahship. By Passover week his teaching and his life were coming to a climax and this was the “right” time.
4. The Passover was also likely significant in Jesus’ planned self-revelation. It commemorated the “passing over” of the Jewish households by the angel of deal in Egypt (Exodus 12:27) …and the larger story of the Exodus from slavery and their journey to the “promised land”. Rather than simply a memorial of that event, this week would be the culmination of that journey to freedom in which Jesus would personally free all life from the consequences of sin.
5. The welcoming crowd probably had a mix of motives. Many may have heard of Jesus’ reputation as a healer and may have hope to see a cure. Some were probably drawn by the spectacle of the parade. Others may have seen him as their hoped-for messiah, by which they meant a political leader along the lines of David or Solomon, who might even throw off the oppressive Romans. Mark quotes some as saying, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” In this, they were projecting their own needs and fantasies onto Jesus. A few may have wanted to engage with him about his teachings and how he inspired people to a more holy life. At some basic level they felt that he was sent by God.
6. Jesus’ disciples may have been surprised about this form of entry. While they had become accustomed to his growing fame and enjoyed their association with him, this willingness to be the centre of acclaim was a shift in Jesus’ style. When he healed, he made others feel like they were his focus. When he taught, he was inviting others to internalize his message. Here, he made his own person the centre of attention. It was to be consistent with his coming crucifixion and resurrection, in which he was to be recognized by the Father as the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6) It was no longer about his words and cures, but about himself. Ironically, in Mark’s gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians acknowledge Jesus as the way and the truth in their attempt to trip him up. Some of the Pharisees and Herodians came to Jesus to catch him in his words. They … said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You … teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay … tax to Caesar…? Mark 13:13-14)
7. The entrance into Jerusalem had many elements that would be repeated in the coming week. Instead of saying “tell no one” Jesus would assert his unity with God, clearly, when he drove merchants from the temple (Mark 11:15-17) and when he referred to himself as David’s son (Mark 12:35-37) As with telling his disciples about where to find the colt, he would predict his own death in a way that made clear that he understood how it would happen. (Mark 14:18-30). In the week ahead, as during his entry to Jerusalem, Jesus would be surrounded by crowds as he taught, as he debated with Pharisees and Herodians and at his passion. Most significantly, the triumph of his entry into the city would be magnified immensely in the glory of his resurrection which he also predicted (Mark 13:26-27).
8. The quiet ending suggests that Jesus, deliberate person that he was, had a plan. He may have wanted to appreciate the temple in the relative calm of the end of the day. Like a triathlete competing in the Ironman in Hawaii, or an ultramarathoner at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, he may have wanted to arrive early and look at the “course” where he would challenge himself.‘just my reflections.