Mark 11: 1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
May I speak in the name of the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.
The account of Palm Sunday is I am sure familiar to all of us. It is recorded in all four Gospels and true to form the accounts differ slightly, but that is to be expected. Only John would have been there, the others wrote their accounts from details passed from person to person.
As familiar as it is there is always something we probably haven't seen before, something new for us to ponder.
Before we take up the actual story we need to set it in context. Jesus was at the end of a journey which had begun some nine months before when he set out from Galilee and finally arriving in Bethany, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Expectations were high, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and the news had spread around Jerusalem. Not only were the locals keen to see Jesus and Lazarus but the news would have spread to all the visitors to Jerusalem who were there for the Passover. We also know that the religious leaders were plotting as to how they might kill Jesus. There was tension in the air, everyone would have been talking excitedly about Jesus, would he make a move, if so, when, and how. What would the authorities do? Would they try to stop him? Was this the time when he would lead the revolution to overthrow the Roman occupation? As the pressure mounted Jesus took action. He was walking with his disciples and he asked two of them to go into the village ahead and find a colt, most likely a donkey. In Hebrew, words were interchangeable. Jesus is very specific this donkey was to be one that had not been ridden before. This is quite extraordinary, think about it. Up to this point Jesus has walked everywhere for months and now that He is within a couple of miles of Jerusalem He needs a ride! They were to untie the colt and if anyone asks why they were to say; "The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately." This was not some chance happening this was all carefully ordered. The day and hour were selected from eternity with perfection. Not only the time of his entry into Jerusalem, but the mode of transport as well, Jesus was going public. If you remember up till this point Jesus had repeatedly withdrawn from crowds, and now he was courting danger.
Why the choice of a donkey, because over 500 years before Zechariah had prophesied that the Messiah would come riding on the foal of a donkey:
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus fulfilled this prophesy to the letter, also riding a donkey (contrary to what we think today) was a kingly act which identified him with the royal line of David. After David's death the king always rode a horse as the donkey was considered unsuitable for a king. Jesus choosing a donkey told them who he was but more importantly what he was like. The prophesy describes the king as humble and riding on a donkey. Jesus had come in peace to a war torn area. Many years later Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come as the Prince of Peace. When Jesus was born the angels announced 'peace on earth' and when Jesus greeted his disciples he said 'Peace be with you' and this is still a supreme Christian greeting today.
Jesus is unlike any other king who has ever lived, and here is slowly, purposefully riding on a donkey. The crowds gather and they give Him a King's welcome. They spread their clothes and they spread palm branches on the ground and shouted and they shouted Hosanna - what does that mean? We tend to think of it as a term of worship but Hosanna means "Save Us." So the crowd was cheering 'Save Us, Save Us. Save us in the Highest. What do we need or want to be saved from today?
But we also cannot miss the importance of the place where Jesus rode in from. Jesus was coming from the Mount of Olives which is a very significant place in this narrative. There is this huge celebration of Jesus entering the city and Mark ends with Him going to the Temple looking around and leaving. Mark's conclusion of this event seems like a bit of an anti-climax.
But it is very significant. Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, but more specifically He is going to the temple. Why? The Temple was the place where God used to dwell. In about 586 BC, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the people were forced exile to Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision where he saw the glory of God rise up from the temple in Jerusalem and come to rest on the Mount of Olives.
God's presence had left the Temple years ago in the time of the exile. Here is the irony in the story: Now we see Jesus coming from the Mount of Olives, entering the city and going to the temple. The Glory of God had returned, Jesus had come back to deliver His people, and in just a weeks’ time the veil of the temple would be torn in two, and the new covenant would begin. Of course none of this would make sense to the disciples until after the events of Holy Week.
There is just one more thing I would draw your attention to in this passage. Mark is the only one of the four gospel writers to include this. Verse 11. Jesus left the temple as it was already late. Perhaps it was the time of day, but maybe it was getting late to get the colt back to its owner. Remember Jesus had promised to return the colt. Maybe this was Jesus keeping his promise despite what the week coming would hold for him.
Could the returning of the colt be a metaphor for us as we begin the walk through Holy Week? Is there anything we need to return, to release or to let go. We all have stuff that we carry around with us, the baggage that continues to weigh us down and impoverishes our lives. Do we need to let go of a grudge, anger, fear or regret. Maybe this is the time to return and release it to God, trusting that he will free us as we are never able to free ourselves.
As we begin our journey with Jesus through Holy Week and as we explore the gift of the Holy Spirit in our Lent course, may we centre ourselves once more in the things that will embellish our lives, joy, hope, truth and honesty. May we pray for justice, mercy and forgiveness and reclaim the peace and courage Jesus offers and will bring us ever closer to God.
I will leave the last word to the donkey, courtesy of G K Chesterton:
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.