Welcome to the City
New Revised Standard Version
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
There is a young woman from our town that I met at the church where I had my first position as an associate pastor. She was in the youth group with one of our sons and her parents were very involved in the adult ministries that I was overseeing. I got the chance to watch her grow up into her high school years. She was a pretty good soccer player – good enough that by the time she got to her senior year of high school she no longer competed at that level but had advanced to a club level. She went on to college and became a star there. Since that time, she has won Olympic medals and a few World Cups with the United States Women's National Team. She has also been honored in our town for her accomplishments. Her name is Tobin Heath.
When she was honored, she returned to us, her hometown, where she was welcomed by the mayor, and was given a key to the city. In the same way, we honor heroes and welcome dignitaries by presenting them with a token expressing our appreciation for their visit or accomplishment. I doubt Jesus received the key to the City of Jerusalem when he arrived there for his last visit after traveling down the mountain on that colt.
Let’s return to the beginning of the story of that trek. The first thing that grabs our attention is Jesus sending the two to get the colt that has never been ridden. It was a miracle that a person could get on a colt that had never been ridden and to then ride into a crowd. You may not have thought about this before, but usually this would result in mayhem since the colt was unbroken and untrained. Yet there wasn’t any mayhem when Jesus rode in on that colt. That absence of mayhem tells us about the identity of the rider. It tells us that Jesus is in control of the situation. This is not an arbitrary or pop-up parade. In Jesus’ mind it was about following God’s will for his destiny. About claiming his identity.
The cloaks that are spread out in front of Jesus as he rides on the road. Note here that Luke doesn’t mention anyone waving branches and yelling “Hosanna!” – our traditional image of Palm Sunday. For Luke it is enough to lay these cloaks on the road ahead of Jesus as he heads towards Jerusalem. Laying the cloaks was a symbol of welcome to a king upon entering a town or city. The cloaks are enough to tell who Jesus is – the king coming into our city.
The words of the multitudes of disciples are next. I like the use of the word, “disciples.” This isn’t just a crowd. These are people who know who Jesus is. They are ones who have followed Jesus around, listened to his teachings and seen his miracles. They have put a lot of miles on their feet.
They cry out these words, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” that echo the words that the angels sang to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ destiny as he rides into Jerusalem is to fulfill both of the promises implied in these words. To come in the name of the Lord as a king and also to bring peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. Jesus does this in a way that mystifies and offends many in the crowd. His coming doesn’t look or seem like what they thought it should have. Jesus isn’t the king they were expecting.
Often in those times, and even in our times, there are what we might consider as triumphal parades. We see them after a team wins the World Series or Super Bowl or Stanley Cup. The players travel in buses with cheering fans lining the streets as they celebrate together what has been accomplished and thinking about what could happen in the future – winning the championship again next year.
The crowds on the road to Jerusalem celebrated the arrival of the king who would use his power to defeat the enemy. This king, King Jesus, would make everything right. The people would have their land back, the Romans would be driven out, and the peace they proclaimed as they celebrated would finally come to their land, their city, and their homes.
Jesus came in a different way, with a different objective. He came not to wield his power but to surrender his power to the will of God. This is not what we think a king would do. Kings don’t willingly give up the power they have. They want to keep it in their grasp.
Imagine again the scene. Jesus on the colt, cloaks spread on the road, and the shouts of the crowd. All of these are symbols that bear witness to the identity of Jesus.
We know with hindsight who Jesus is, what he has done, what he encountered that week and how it all played out. We have heard many times about Jesus’ resurrection, who he is as the risen Christ, and that he is always with us. That perspective is in our minds as we again celebrate this day, Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem through the lens of the Resurrection.
Palm Sunday is a stop along the way to the important day, Easter Sunday. We have a couple of other stops – Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – before we arrive at the big event, the celebration of the Resurrection. Our journey through Holy Week is focused on Easter.
It might be helpful for a few moments to put ourselves in the crowd. The crowd that had no idea what was going to happen in the coming week. In that moment, all they saw was the one they believed was their king riding into the city.
We may wonder why we ought to take a few moments pretending to be in that crowd when we already know what lies ahead for them and for Jesus. One of the reasons this is worth doing is because we often find ourselves in crowds of people who don’t know who Jesus is or have little understanding of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. Mentally putting ourselves in that place in the crowd along the road could help us understanding better those we encounter today who may not really know who Jesus is.
The question Jesus often put before his followers, his close friends and the multitude of disciples, was, “Who do you think I am?” Jesus also asks us that question over and over. We think we know the answer: Jesus is our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God. We know who Jesus is. He’s the one who loved people and had compassion for them. The one who died on the cross for us.
Do we really understand what it means to proclaim these things about Jesus? We might not like the real answer to this question. We might like that this is the same Jesus who was rejected, suffered, and killed. It is more comfortable for us to look past those things to Easter. Who wants to think about our King, our Lord, our Savior as the one who experienced those things? Even though we know these events are part of the story, we would rather not have them be part of the story we remember.
Yet here, in Luke, we have Jesus who is in control as he rides into the city and calls out to us to follow him. Do we only want to follow the Jesus who, on this day, we celebrate with our Hosannas? The Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord. Or are we willing to follow Jesus at the end of the week? It is easier for us to set aside the events of the end of the week and focus on the celebration of Palm Sunday and then the celebration of Easter. This is the Jesus we want to follow – the one we cheer for and the one who is resurrected. The Jesus who loves and cares, has given us a life of forgiveness, and through whom we have the promise of life eternal and of life today.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem on this day, his last visit to the city, saying, in essence, “Here I am. Take notice.” Throughout most of the gospels we hear Jesus telling people not to tell others who he is. Yet here he is drawing attention to himself inviting by his presence the people to follow him because he follows the will of God.
Jesus is a different type of leader. The one who tells his disciples that humility is more important than pride, and that who, on the evening of the Last Supper, washes their feet as a servant would. Who tells them that the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus tells them humbly following God is most important.
One of the reasons Jesus rides in on the colt (donkey in other versions) is because it is a symbol of humility. A king would usually ride in regally seated on a stallion. The trumpets would blow announcing his arrival. Everyone would know that he was the king, their leader, the powerful one.
Jesus comes in a different way. He comes in peace. He comes in the name of the Lord. He comes to show God’s true identity to the people. The God whose power is manifested in forgiveness and love.
You may remember when Pope Francis made his first visit to the United States. He flew into Washington D.C. Usually such a dignitary would be escorted to a large limo with bullet-proof glass and amenities, and then be accompanied by a motorcade as he made his way through the city. Pope Francis didn’t do that. He climbed into a small Fiat. A small Fiat! That’s not what important people ride in!
What Pope Francis communicated a powerful message with his action. As the Savior moved among the ordinary people so should he, the leader of the Catholic Church he has been called to serve.
We spend our days in the world. As we do, we are called to be the ones who walk and live among the people in need. Walk and live among those who might not know Jesus. We are called to stand with the crowds on either end of Jesus’ week in Jerusalem. The ones who cheer as he rides into the city and those at the other end who yell, “Crucify him!” We are called to be present with all God’s people.
What type of king are we looking for? Do we want that king who arrives in humility on the colt, or do we really want the king who will come to destroy all our earthly enemies to bring peace on earth in the way we imagine it should be handled?
This is a good question for us to consider, particularly in our world today where we are surrounded by conflict. Wars where there shouldn’t be wars. People are getting hurt and killed in Ukraine, in schools, stores, and neighborhoods who aren’t even involved in the conflict. We live in a country that has been divided into an “us” versus “them” mentality. We wonder if someone is on our side or the other side.
Friends, Jesus calls us to be those who aren’t on any side but his.