Before I begin I must give credit to Fr. Francis Maloney for his historical commentary on this story that has been particularly enlightening to me in recent years on the Gospels of Luke and John in particular. What is of particular interest to me is his observations on other 1st century processionals that may very well have happened at the same time as Jesus’. Many times we envision the “triumphal entry” story as huge event where everyone in Jerusalem was welcoming Jesus as their King and/or Messiah. The crowds are waving palm branches, throwing their outer cloaks on the ground for his common donkey/colt to walk on. With shouts of “Hosanna!” Jesus is welcomed into the city by his followers. I do not see any reason to doubt any of these traditional understandings and the traditions which we have derived from them but when we see the other processionals ocurring at or around the same time in Jerusalem, we see just how important Jesus’ entry was.
Herod Antipas held a massive military procession into Jerusalem every year at this time. No doubt this was a show of force displaying the military power and might of Herod and his Roman overlords. After legions of soldiers and chariots passes, all with their glistening banners and golden emblems, Herod himself would ride into town on a mighty warhorse. The people whom he lorded over would bow at his presence perhaps even throwing their cloaks in their reverence of him as he passed by. The subliminal message was clear. Herod was in charge and he had the power to squash any revolt or uprising. If you dared to cross Herod, you might end up on one!
Enter Jesus, who stood in opposition to almost everything the Herods of the world stood in favor of. Jesus blessed the meek, poor, widowed, peacemakers, and the righteous. Herod championed the bloodthirsty and power hungry (he was the one who beheaded John the Baptist after all). Herod displayed his might with mighty war horses and shows of force. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. Jesus’ entry is a continuation of this thread of opposing powers between the Kingdom of this world, and the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ entry is a final slap in the face to Herod and his cohorts.
Here we must ask ourselves the same question we have been asking all of Lent: where are we in the story? Are we among the Pharisees whose skepticism and pride prevents belief? Are we among the crowds who welcome Jesus with shouts of Hosanna and waving palm branches? Are we those who live in the rampaging city asking, “Who is this?” Whoever we are in the story, we are invited to follow and see. All of our skepticism and pride, our praise filled Hosanna’s, our confusion as to what exactly is going on will be asked in a short week and the empty tomb will answer.
Blessings for the journey,