This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and one of the lectionary texts will be Mark 11:1-11. This story is often referred to as “the triumphal entry.”
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. If 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,
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.
I love Mark’s ending to the parade, which is a bit anticlimactic. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus charges straight into the temple and starts flipping tables over, but in Mark, Jesus is late, and the crowds have already gone home. He comes back the next day to “cleanse” the temple. Mark’s version reveals two things: First, Jesus wasn’t always on time. Second the whole event is staged.
We also have this interesting dialogue about procuring the colt. Had Jesus already made arrangements behind the scenes? Or did he simply have divine foreknowledge about the colt? I suspect Jesus has engineered this confrontation.
I did a Google image search for “triumphal entry,” which is how people often refer to this story. There were the usual classical paintings of Jesus on a donkey, but there were also these:
When we call this story “the triumphal entry,” we frame the event in terms of a conquest or occupation, sometimes for the sake of contrast: Jesus is a peaceful messiah, not a military one. I don’t think that’s wrong, but the title isn’t in the text. I do think the writer is calling to mind the story of 2 Maccabees 10, in which Judas Maccabeus (“Judah the Hammer”) retakes Jerusalem from “the foreigners” and purifies the temple. There are clearly revolutionary and militant overtones, but there always are in protests. And that’s how I frame this story: a planned protest, an “occupation” more like Occupy Wall Street, and a “triumphal entry” more like the Civil Rights marches.
This story is geographical. There is a lot of movement from Jesus’ base of operations in Bethany to the dangerous religious and military stronghold of Jerusalem. When Jesus commandeers a colt, marches into Jerusalem, and throws out the moneychangers as if he and his followers own the place, they are occupying a contested public space.
So if you have a problem with public protests and marches, you wouldn’t actually like Jesus very much.
Twice a week during Lent (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here:
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