Summary: Some reflections on Palm Sunday

TSJ 2019

Palm Sunday 2019

This morning’s Gospel reading relates the beginning of one of the most momentous weeks in Antiquity – usually accepted to have been in AD 29.

Indeed in my opinion it is the most important week in history.

We know the story of Palm Sunday so well that it is hard to find something new to say.

I would like to suggest to you that Holy Week in AD 29 was the most unusual week that has ever

been recorded.

It was a strange week because everything that happened was not what one would have expected to happen.

Even the start of the week – Jesus’ triumphal procession into Jerusalem was unconventional.

We know the story so well that we overlook how strange it must have appeared to those first century Jews and Romans who witnessed it.

Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem. They would have no problem with that as many were expecting him to rise up and throw the Romans out of Israel

What was entirely UNEXPECTED was that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

That was not the conventional way for a king to ride in his capital city.

People - in Jesus day - would have expected a king who would lead an uprising to ride in - in a triumphal procession - on a powerful war chariot pulled by four stallions (as happened in a Roman triumph).

He would not be expected to ride in on a donkey that symbolised humility.

So why did Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly – on a donkey.

Seems a bit of a paradox doesn't it?

What is God trying to tell us?

1. Background

I think that we can find an answer to this conundrum by considering the tensions in Jerusalem at that time.

Passover was a very sensitive time and the Romans would be on red alert.

It was the significance of Passover that many Jewish nationalists, especially the Zealots would have wanted to exploit.

For the Passover reminded them of Moses being a Messiah sent by God to lead them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.

The people were ready to rise up at Jesus’ command

The great hope that day was that Jesus the Messiah would lead a mighty uprising against the Romans

But let me step back a bit and ask the question

What would it have felt like to be a Jew in first Century Palestine?

Perhaps very much like being French in occupied France during the Second World War – where the Germans were the hated masters of the country.

The Jews hated the Romans and were expecting an ALL CONQUERING Messiah/ King to free them, much as Judas Macabees had in 167 BC.

Judas Macabeus – the hammerer had risen up against Antiochus IV when Antiochus had had the affrontary to sacrifice a pig on the Altar in the Temple.

Not a politically good move by Antiochus, but he had wanted to rub the faces of the Jews into the dirt.

But it backfired and Antiochus was driven out of Israel

And for about 100 years Israel had been free - living under the rule of the Hasmonean Kings – descendants of Judas Maccabeus.

But in 67 BC when Pompey the Roman general was asked to mediate between two rival claimants to the Hasmoneum throne.

That wasn’t a wise move because instead Pompey decided to conquer Israel and incorporate it into the Roman Empire

And that remained the case during Jesus life time and for many centuries after.

The Jewish populace thus resented the Romans and were looking for a Messiah who would boot the hated Romans out.

And during the life of Christ many Messiahs arose but all were ruthlessly put down by the power of the Roman Army.

The Jews were pinning their nationalistic hopes on a Messiah/King - someone who would free them from the oppression of a foreign ruler.

Much in the style of Judas Maccabeus

For the Jews THAT was the only type of Messiah they could understand and were expecting at the beginning of Holy Week.

However in Holy Week Jesus dispels their illusions.

Why did the crowd change in one short week from worshipping Jesus to baying for his blood on Good Friday and crying Crucify him?

In part I think it was to do with the fact that Jesus did NOT fulfil their expectations of Messiahship.

In fact if the crowds had been watching carefully they would have realised that - even on Palm Sunday itself - something wasn’t quite right.


Because if Jesus was coming as an all conquering King, he would not have ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey

Instead had he come as a political Messiah, he would have ridden into Jerusalem on a white stallion – the symbol of power.

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