Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey (not on a horse, or on a chariot, as Pontius Pilate would have done when he arrived in the city). Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (owned by David) after his anointing as king and before his enthronement in the holy city….
The crowd waves branches and cries Hosannah! Zechariah had prophesied that the King would come to the people humble and riding on an ass, and would inaugurate peace for all peoples (not just Jews) as they waved branches and cried Hosannah…He would come to offer sacrifice and set up a new covenant of peace…
This year, on Palm Sunday, we read in entirety the passion narrative from Matthew. Like all the gospels it does so with its own emphasis, and with its own selection of the events. But Matthew follows his Markan source very closely in editing his own Passion Narrative.
Matthew’s story begins with a sense that a plot, indeed a political storm is brewing against Jesus. (26, 1-16).
It goes on, to suggest to us, the readers, that we are entering a Kairos, a special time not like Chronos or ordinary time: and in this sacred period of Jesus’ life, we see him betrayed. There is paradox here: storm time is special time: special time is the time of betrayal. (26, 17-35)
In Matthew, Jesus as a prophet is aware ahead of time of what is to take place, and prophesies it, especially the infidelity of Judas and of Peter (and implicitly, of the whole group of disciples).
There follows the central event of Gethsemane: where Jesus feels the pain of it all, where he prays as never before, where something happens inside him that makes him ready for the cross. He was not quite ready before this. It made him ready. (26, 36-56).
Then he is on Trial – while Peter denies he ever knew him, and Judas dies perhaps without ever really knowing him, Jesus confesses to the Sanhedrin that he is indeed the Son of God and the Messiah. (26, 57 – 27,10) To act like a real Son of God is to submit to what is done to him. To save others is to submit to the fact that they don’t want you doing that.
As such, he is condemned by Pilate. (27, 11-31) He is handed over into the hands of the execution squad, he walks the way of the cross, and he is crucified, dead and buried.
Then – and this is Matthew, not Mark, a new age dawns, in his resurrection from the dead. (27, 33 - 66)
When you reflect on this narrative, as Matthew puts it, you begin to realize that Jesus is fulfilling his destiny. It was foreshadowed in the Jewish scriptures. It is being played out here. And it inaugurates a new way of living. It is a way of living in full obedience to his destiny, to the reality around him. It is a way of living that goes beyond death, into the new age ushered in by resurrection. It is the appropriate way of living for the true Son of the living God (who therefore is the Messiah, the true son of David). It is that way of living that we, believers in him, are asked to share with him.
What Matthew is telling us, is that the way to be Son of God is indeed a strange way. It is the reverse of all power and glory. It is the way of powerlessness and lowliness.
We will see this theme recurring throughout this coming Holy Week, and if we follow Matthew, throughout our lives.
Our Palm sunday audio/video is: