When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Sometimes it pays to go along with the crowd. If we were in Jerusalem long ago, we would have likely found ourselves among the people of the city. Seated peacefully in our homes, maybe doing work out in the marketplace, but tucked behind the walls of Zion for sure. We would have been prepping for the Passover, dealing with the extra traffic the festival brought and also making sure that our household had everything it needed to celebrate. Everything was busy, everything was loud, and yet something louder and stranger than the usual festival rush was happening just outside the gates of the city.
Taking a break from our work, we could see what the hubbub was about. A mob had formed outside the city. It was large, but how large you could not quite be sure. The group did not seem organized and in fact, they seemed to just be coming and going with no real plan to what they were doing. Some people are walking away naked, which though more common in the ancient world is never not strange. Other people have climbed up into trees and started throwing down branches from above the road. Those on the ground are grabbing them, waving them or throwing them on top of the discarded clothes sitting in the road.
At the center of that mob is a man on a donkey, maybe two donkeys? Hard to tell from where you are standing. Something clicks in your head, “Oh, it’s a political rally!” Someone is claiming to be God’s anointed, and they are riding a donkey like Zechariah said the Messiah would. It’s weird though, usually the crowds for someone claiming something like this are more… Organized. This guy seems to just be picking up people as he goes along. You lean in to ask someone who the guy on the donkey is and hear something that might just change your life. “The prophet, Jesus of Nazareth.” I say it might just change our lives, because there is a choice to be made as the parade passes by.
Jesus, in all his ministry, was not what people were expecting. His disciples, who knew him best, often struggled to wrestle what they wanted Jesus to be away from who Jesus really was. Some of them saw him as an amazing prophet and teacher. Others still saw him as God’s messiah, come to free them from Roman oppression. Still, others combined the roles and saw Jesus as something more, something different, something approaching the savior we know him today to be. The public opinion of Jesus was even more scattered. Was he a revolutionary? A con artist? A traveling teacher? All depended on who you asked.
In our own experience, as post resurrection people, we know how this story ends. As we honor the work of God across the next week, with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we will do so knowing that Easter Sunday is waiting to break out. This ultimate liberating act of God, the moment death was conquered, puts who Jesus was into perspective. We cannot deny the Godhood of someone who can tell the grave it has no power. We cannot deny the glory of a person who after death was transformed into a still more brilliant life. We cannot see the way the Spirit has brought us to embrace faith, and not deny that Spirit is the same one carried and given by Christ.
Yet, we still can fall victim to the same traps that people in Christ’s time on earth stumbled into. The appeal of life as we would like it to be, God as we can easily understand, is always a threat. We can want God to associate only with people like us. We can want God to reject those we reject and embrace those we embrace. My enemy is God’s enemy, and my friend is God’s friend. Not only that, but my plans and my ideas are second only to God’s, so close are our intentions and mindset. We can look out into a situation and just know exactly what is true, and good, and right about it. We are wise and discerning, and do not need to wait and see anything about what is going on beyond the surface of things.
We often make the mistake of believing that the people that rejected Jesus’s ministry were all irrational or evil. Some of them were, but most people who turned away from Jesus’s ministry were those who looked at him and decided they knew what sort of person he was. He was another revolutionary that would come and go, or else he was another speaker you could take or leave. The pharisees, perhaps his biggest adversaries, were not that different from him. They taught similar lessons, often traveled in the same way, but when they disagreed the only solution those in power could think of was to push out this thorn in their side.
For those who found a reason to take issue with Jesus, they would often point to the crowds that surrounded him. The term in Greek for the people who welcomed Jesus into the city is οχλος (Ochlos,) and it is almost always used as an insult. While you had the dignified people of the city, the πολις (Polis,) and the average person on the street, the λαος (Laos,) there was always the masses beneath them. This rabble, this common crowd, this mob, that is the kind of people Jesus attracted. He was not getting the people in town with businesses and good repute, he was getting the people those people would never let near them.
In our modern context, Jesus appealed to the junkies and the backpackers, the men riding bikes from one end of town to the other, and the women doing what they need to, to survive. Jesus did not care about whether his camps would take down property values, and he always rejected the leaders in each town who suggested his gathering was somehow improper. The Kingdom was breaking out, the celebration was already beginning outside the city and it was really starting to pick up. The well-to-do and the respectable were not going to be attending, it was going to be the people who were willing to learn what the world should be like, and not those who had decided long ago what they wanted the world to be like. We are all standing at the gates of Jerusalem, and we all make the choice. Will you join the crowd? Or lock up your heart?