The Son of God, Messiah, the Hope of Israel enters Jerusalem on a donkey.
As we enter this Holy Week – the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – we remember that it begins with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.
To the Romans, palm leaves were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jews who greeted their Messiah were simply echoing this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judea.
But what kind of messiah parades in triumph on a donkey?
The One who was born of a woman?
The One who was slain in a manger?
The One who emptied Himself in humility?
The One who was soon to die on a cross, where His grace simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.
This final Sunday of Lent is a time to pause from temporal concerns and reflect on the fact that little has changed in two millennia. Even today, those who believe in Christ want a certain kind of Jesus; a certain type of Messiah – one who will anoint a certain sort of leader or bless a particular form of politics or prosper a very particular war; one who will be ‘on our side’ against all the opposition, foreign and domestic. We seek a Messiah who will affirm our notions of truth and ratify our interpretations of Scripture; one who will follow us conveniently as we direct our own paths in this brief pilgrimage through life.
What kind of success, wealth, reputation or respect is represented by a donkey?