Summary: What was Jesus saying about his Kingdom by riding a donkey into Jerusalem
Palm Sunday 2014
This morning’s Gospel reading is the beginning of one of the most momentous weeks in Antiquity – in AD 29.
Indeed one of the most important weeks 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
It was a strange week because everything that happened was not what one would have expected.
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 riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was not the conventional way for a king to ride in a triumphal procession into his capital city.
People in Jesus day would have expected a king in a triumphal procession to ride in on a chariot pulled by four horses (as happened in a Roman triumph) or a stallion – both symbols of power.
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?
I think that we can find an answer to this conundrum by considering the tensions in Jerusalem at that time.
What would it have felt like to be a Jew in first Century Palestine?
The Jews hated the Romans and were expecting an ALL CONQUERING Messiah/ King.
Someone who would boot the hated Romans out.
The Jews were pinning their nationalistic hopes on a Messiah/King - someone who would free them from the oppression of a foreign ruler.
And they looked back in history about 200 years to BC 167 - to the time when Judas Maccabees threw off the yoke of the Seleucid kings of Syria - and reclaimed Jewish independence.
For the Jews THAT was the type of Messiah they 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 didn’t fulfil their expectaions 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.
But he came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey – the symbol of servanthood.
But this is the very point that Jesus is making - when he enters Jerusalem – “in lowly pomp” as the hymn writer put it.
Jesus’ solution was different.
He was a king all right, but his kingly mission was to give his life for his followers.
He was truly the Servant King.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that in the Old Testament, donkeys were used by judges and kings to get around on for errands of peace.
In contrast, a charger was primarily used in battle and signified power and might.
Again by using a donkey, Jesus is making a statement. Jesus is the Prince of Peace
His kingdom is a kingdom of peace not a kingdom of war and domination.
2. So what is God trying to tell us?
I think the key can be found towards the end of the Gospel reading where Jesus says:
"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me." (Jn 12:24-25)
We read something similar in Matthew’s Gospel
" whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Mt. 20:27)
And indeed Jesus modelled that himself.
We see him doing this at the Last Supper when he washed the disciples feet – a job for the servant and not the master of the house. (Jn. 13; 4).
So what can we take home from the triumphal entry in Jerusalem for ourselves today?