Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9 ESV)
So Jesus makes his final trip into Jerusalem with the kind of public theatrics of which Boris Johnson would be jealous. Colliding religious images, national hope and communal longings he draws on all his fame, giving the loud, clear signal to the people of Jerusalem: The time is here! I am taking my throne! I am winning this victory! I am bringing peace and security to my people! (Zech 9:10)
As if on cue, the mob of nationalistic zealots and devoted disciples are in a frenzy, calling him the “Son of David”, the great king of Israel.
Yet his subsequent march on the Temple subverts what might be the expectation of an assault against the nearby Palace of Herod or even Governor’s residence. His most impressive display of power, of influence is wasted in a useless display of blessing to the sick, rather than a siege of the seat of power. Jesus will not get another opportunity.
The close reader of the Gospels ought not be shocked. Jesus was already offered the nations of the earth. He turned them down (Matthew 3:8-10). At the start of his ministry, and here at the end, we see Jesus is no respecter of nations, rulers or powers.
He acts like a fool: Crowned prince of nowhere and nobody. He rides on the celebrations of the people, then turning away from them to fulfil his purpose in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13). Yet none of this is new information about Jesus. None of this need shock the reader about him.
The reader knows that Jesus lives to do and reveal the will of God (Matthew 3:10). We know how he loves to have compassion on the sick and demonstrate God’s favour for the poor and broken, especially in the face of the Religious. Matthew’s Gospel tells us all this already. So what is the purpose of this pageantry?
It is twofold: To show that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and to show how utterly different his reign is to all other powers in the earth. Thus, the essential otherliness of the Christian Church is plain, delivered like a punch to the gut.
Palm Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry and paradoxically the rejection of worldly power for the followers of this Messiah. It is called a triumphant entry in a theological sense only.
Practically, politically this event ends in failure, broken and bloody on a cross.
It is very easy to become caught up in the sweeping strength of a movement, pushing for some change or agenda. Jesus here harnesses this power and utterly wastes it on the meaningless, trivial and short-sighted.
He makes a scene in the Temple. He calls all the nations to prayer. He heals some sick people.
The markets will be back tomorrow. And the nations will continue in their prayers to their gods. The sick will die again.
Christ is heralded as a king. This king casts off his crown.