If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we might think this was Jesus’ first journey to Jerusalem but the Gospel of John tells of many previous trips. Jesus, like any devout Jewish man, would have travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate as many of the feasts as possible. This time however, was different. Various clues point us to the messianic significance of this, his last journey to Jerusalem, and the beginning of Passion Week. Our reading today begins with a triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ends with a parable foretelling the murder of a son.
At the end of the previous chapter, the story of Bartimaeus acts as an introduction to the narrative that is about to unfold. Bartimaeus called out to Jesus using the Messianic title ‘Son of David’ (see Isaiah 11:1-3) in a similar way to the crowd’s shout to Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. His cry, ‘Have mercy on me’ will echo the cry of ‘Hosanna’ that will also soon be declared by the branch-waving crowds. Like the Bartimaeus story, blind eyes will be opened to see Jesus as the promised Messiah and the crowds will follow him into the holy city.
Up until now, we have often seen Jesus attempting to keep his identity hidden but now the time is right for his true identity to be revealed as he walks the path to the cross.
The mysterious request about a young, unridden colt is a prophetic sign. Jesus is setting the scene – putting himself in the middle of messianic prophesy – revealing himself as the King who fulfils Zechariah 9:9:
“Rejoice 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”.
Crowds had gathered in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover and the messianic imagery of Zechariah was not lost on them. As Jesus rides towards the city, people begin to respond by laying out a ‘red carpet’ with their shawls and leafy branches. They are reacting to the arrival of a King. A joyful procession surrounds Jesus. The crowd cries out ‘Hosanna’, which in Hebrew Hoshia-nah literally means ‘please save’. Originally an appeal for deliverance (Psalm 118:25,26), it had come into liturgical usage (during Jewish feasts) as an expression of joy and praise for deliverance granted or anticipated. When Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem as the coming King, the promised Messiah riding on a donkey, the expression came readily to the lips of the Passover crowds.
Use the words of Psalm 118:15-29, like the Jerusalem crowd, to welcome the King into your own life today.