Mark 11:1-10 Jesus' "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,
“Hosanna! 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!”
The writer of the Book of Mark does a spectacular job of paring down the details of this story and giving us the essentials. Jesus is coming to town. He sends two disciples to fetch a colt. Jesus predicts that the disciples will be questioned about taking the colt so Jesus provides them with precise instructions regarding what to say in the event he is correct. They are, in fact, questioned about getting the colt and respond with Jesus' words. They take the colt to Jesus, put their cloaks on the colt, and Jesus rides the colt into the city. People gather around Jesus placing their cloaks on the road along with leafy branches. And they sing and cheer Jesus on.
We learn a number of things from this passage.
Jesus wanted to make a big entrance into the city. This was not his first time in the city. He had come many times with his family, especially for the Feast of Passover and other religious holidays. So it seems odd that on this particular trip to the city he decided to make a spectacle of himself.
Jesus chose to enter on the back of a colt (in other texts it calls the beast a donkey, or an ass; either way, a beast of burden). This was not the animal fit for a king, a prince, or even a Roman soldier. Jesus didn't care because he was making a statement about one's station in life; that station mattered little in God's kingdom.
The people responded to Jesus' entrance. They laid their cloaks in the streets along with leafy branches. Cloaks and branches signify an elevation in status as though the people were acknowledging his kingship.
The people sang as Jesus entered the city. They recognized him as a descendant of David and they hoped he was the one who had come to liberate them from their oppressors, the Roman Empire.
What this passage does not tell us.
Jesus entered the Gate of Nicodemus, a back gate into the city of Jerusalem built by Nicodemus, a member of the religious elite. The entrance opened right into the living quarters of the people; the people to whom Jesus' message would be most liberating.
Jesus knew that going to Jerusalem was dangerous. He told his disciples ahead of time that he was going to die. He knew he was going to risk everything by standing up to the religious leaders of his day, reflective in the passages that follow Jesus' entrance into the city.
Pilate, the Roman ruler over Jerusalem, was riding in through the front gate at the same time Jesus was riding in the back gate. Pilate did not receive any fanfare, no songs, no cloaks, no leafy branches.
The writers of the Book of Mark do not give us much insight into Jesus' thinking, we simply see Jesus act. We see Jesus riding into the city and in the very next passage going to the temple and throwing over the tables of the moneychangers.
This passage barely gives us a glimpse into what the people were thinking. They clearly saw Jesus as someone special, someone to be elevated to a higher status, but at the same time, were startled or taken aback when Jesus was arrested. We do not know how many of those who welcomed Jesus at the beginning of the week also shouted "Crucify Him" at the end of the week. I imagine, though, that there were quite a few. No doubt, they were disappointed. It is in how they describe Jesus that we get our greatest clue of all, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!"
They weren't necessarily shouting for Jesus, the man, but rather shouting and singing in hopes that Jesus was the descendant of David who would usher in a new kingdom, one that was free of Roman occupation and oppression. When Jesus didn't bring an army, swords, or even sharp words, there was some concern. And, after making a scene at the temple, ultimately getting arrested, the people who hailed his coming cursed his presence. I imagine they felt betrayed. The hope that they had held onto for so long was once again dashed. It must have been terrifying for the people to think they risked their own lives to elevate Jesus when he failed to deliver what they believed is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies.
Strangely enough, Jesus never promised to be that kind of king. Jesus spent every day of his ministry trying to reorient the people toward a different kind of kingdom, a different way of living in community. Roman Empire or not, Jesus believed that the people could still live free because freedom begins in the heart. Freedom is about how we treat one another; how we love and live in community. Freedom is trusting that God is big enough to handle everything happening in this world and throughout the cosmos.
The bigger question is, "Are we willing to risk following Jesus into Jerusalem and going to jail with him?"