Jesus completes his measured journey to Jerusalem for the time of Passover, and his arrival stirs great excitement among the crowds. No doubt, many had heard that he had called Lazarus back to life (John 12:9). The miracle so enraged his opponents that his travel to the city seems a deliberative provocation. The triumphal entry can only heighten the resolve to remove him.
Scholars have written about the staging of his entrance into the city, coming in from the east in this humble fashion, while entering on the opposite side of the city was the power of Rome in all its gleaming force. It was a stunning contrast between the realm proclaimed by Jesus and the realm that held most of the world in its thrall.
Mary Oliver captures a vision of the simplicity of the scene—the people, the palms, the praise--in her poem, The Poet Thinks about the Donkey.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. (Thirst: Poems)
In a sense, the inexorable movement toward his ultimate clash with temple authorities and the occupying forces is a similar pattern. Resolute and courageous, Jesus enacts the prophetic symbolism of the promised redeemer of Israel.
Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt.
This last week of his life has begun with the cheers of thronging crowds, which will be silenced all too soon. He will try to fill the remaining hours with urgent teaching, prayers, and attempts to prepare his disciples for his death. One wonders if Jesus enjoyed this brief time of festivity, if it lifted his hopes that his message was being received. We know how the narrative unfolds, but at least on this day, the kind of reign he has proclaimed is in full evidence, with an important role for the donkey as they, together, moved forward.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.