Yr A ~ Palm Sunday ~ Matthew 21:1-11
The whole city was in turmoil!
I read this verse and I thought to myself, “Are they describing Jerusalem in 0030 or describing us today?” I mean, I don’t need to tell you, the city, the world is in turmoil. And it is colouring how we’re hearing this story today. It has to.
A huge crowd is with Jesus.
Crowd? No, we can’t have a crowd! We can’t have more than 5 people together right now, and they had better be properly physically distanced from one another.
And then I got this visual.
Imagine Jesus was entering the gates of our ‘city in turmoil’ right now. There would be a crowd with him. Well, 5 people, each 2 metres apart. And technically that should be 10, I guess. That’s how many you’re allowed at a funeral – and a good argument can be made that Jesus arriving at Jerusalem that day was a funeral procession!
If so, that certainly wouldn’t be the spectacle we’ve come to expect like in all the Jesus movies. In the movies he’s always perched up on the donkey, smiling away as the hordes wave palm branches and sing songs about him.
You can picture it, right?
But if you read the story in Matthew carefully that’s not actually what’s going on.
It says that the people laid their coats on the road, and cut branches off trees and laid them on the road before him. It doesn’t say they weren’t palm branches, but it doesn’t say they were either. And they apparently weren’t waving.
In Mark’s version it says the people also did the coats and branches on the road thing.
In Luke’s version it only mentions the coats – no branches at all, waving or paving.
Only in John’s gospel do we get actual palm branches waving around (but no coats on the road). That’s the scene that makes all the movies.
I think most people just blend them all together and create a picture that they like. And that’s ok.
But if you do that you need to be conscious that you’re missing the theological point of the writers of each gospel. They wrote four different versions of this story to emphasize four different aspects of theology. Everybody’s got an agenda. So it’s probably best for us to try to figure out what Matthew was trying to communicate to us here.
The tone is really important.
In Matthew’s telling there’s no waving and jubilant singing.
It’s less of a parade and more of a political protest rally – and the people are not happy.
They aren’t happy because they are terribly oppressed.
They aren’t happy because they’re entering Jerusalem for the huge Passover festival and the Romans are ruling with an iron fist.
Passover came from Moses’ time back in Egypt. It’s all about how God saves the people of Israel by having the angel of death ‘pass over’ them and only kill all the Egyptian children. It’s a horrific story. Now imagine if you’re a Jew entering Jerusalem for a festival about how God kills and punishes the oppressor and sets you free – and the thing you want most in the world in that moment is for God to do it again!
And imagine there’s a guy riding a donkey – just like in that story from the prophet Zechariah that you know so well. (Well, you would if you were around back then.)
Here’s the story – Zechariah 9:9-10 read on