Street merchants were calling their wares. People from out of town jostled each other in the streets. The air fairly hummed with activity.
The natives of Jerusalem looked at each other with a kind of benign resignation, a bewilderment of mixed emotions. They were harassed by this mob that came to the annual festival, but they were delighted with the growing jingle of shekels in the leather pouches strapped around their waists.
Bearded men walked by in lock-step precision. Their hands folded over protruding paunches; their phylactories strapped to their wrists; a blue fringe on the edge of their long sacred robes trailed occasionally in the dust. A look of condescending pride smoothed their jowls.
Little children, in an eternal game of tag, ran between the legs of the crowd. Their faces were dark and dirty, but their bright eyes and their glistening teeth sparkled in occasional explosions of joyous laughter and shrieking.
It was the scene of a marketplace bazaar.
Frightened sheep nudged each other along on quick, tiny steps, listening to the soft melodious cadence of the shepherd who called to them quietly.
The Sound of the Parade
From off in the distance, there came a noise — a kind of rhythmic, staccato chant that wafted in …. now louder …. from the southern gate of the city.
A hush fell over the marketplace. People stopped talking to each other and turned their faces and their ears toward the sound. There was a recurring word you could hear — “David? Lord? Hosea? Hosannah” — that was the word that kept coming back. “Hosannah.” It was more like a cheer than a chant.
It came louder now as people began to see the dust rising from shuffling feet. Elbows flew angrily as men pushed and shoved to get nearer to the sound of the noise. Hosannah! Hosannah! the recurring word rang out as the crowd drew nearer in this impromptu parade. Hosannah! over and over again, louder and louder, reverberating against stone walls.
A man came running ahead of the procession. He was saying something that people had to strain to hear: “Jesus of Nazareth is coming! The Prophet is coming! The man who raises the dead is coming! Hurry, Jesus is coming!”
The crowd began to move closer to get a glimpse of this strange prophet they had heard about. There were those from Galilee who had heard Him teach, those who had seen Him heal people. They now heard that the dead had been raised by Him. They ran to get another glimpse of this One who had preached and healed in their towns.
What they saw was a man moving serenely on the back of a small white donkey. The animal’s mouth was inches from the ground, his large, wild eyes darting up and down in near panic from the press and the noise of the crowd that gathered around Him.
There was the slashing and whooshing of palm fronds as they were put down in front of its hooves. People took off their coats and their robes and spread them in the way. It made a mosaic of multi-colored profusion.
It was an incredible scene. The people were shouting:
“Hosannah, Hosannah, to the Son of David!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Innocent passers-by, who had never seen Jesus before and did not recognize Him, found themselves caught up in the procession. They, too, joined their voices with the mob, finding themselves shouting praise to one whom they had never seen before. Hosannah! Hosannah!
But the man who sat on the donkey seemed to be the eye of the hurricane, the center of the storm. Around Him, chaos; but in Him, an almost palpable peace — a look of unspeakable sadness. And was there not the glint of a tear as He sat on the donkey, moving slowly down the dusty street, almost as if He were above and beyond the reach of the words that were bursting like fireworks in the air —
“Hosannah! Hosannah! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
To those mystified Roman soldiers who stood like traffic lights on every corner, these Jews were a strange, hot-headed, excitable people. They did not know that the palm fronds waved in front of Jesus were the crowd’s open invitation for Him to be a Maccabean restorer of Israel.
During the Maccabean revolts, the palm frond had become a symbol. It was stamped on the coins. It was used in religious festivals. It was no accident of history that the palm fronds were used that Sunday.
The onerous burden of taxation kept the peasants subjugated to Rome, the temple, and Jewish authorities. They looked for deliverance!
He looked around the crowd as if He could not hear, as if He were listening to a distant music that was being played for His ears only — as if He were not a part of the moving processional which by now had arrived at the very door of the temple enclosure.
A Choir of Stones?
The procession stopped. People in the second story of the temple looked out at the crowd, listening to their steady cheering and chanting. Angry Sadducees called to Jesus above the crowd: “Jesus, do you not hear what they are saying? Rebuke your disciples!”
At this, Jesus’ head turned quickly upward. Somehow His words got through the din of the multitude: “If these were silent,” he shouted imperiously, “I tell you the very stones would cry out!”
Ancient saints — with their long, scraggly, gray beards hanging to their waists — looked at each other with red, watery, weak eyes. These who knew the scriptures intimately, quoted to each other in raspy voices from
“Behold, Daughter of Zion, your King comes to you, meek and riding on the back of a donkey!”
Others recalled the account of Solomon’s coronation when he rode from the spring of Gihon into the temple itself on the back of a donkey. Jesus’ entry appeared also as a coronation procession. It was unmistakable to those who knew the scriptures.
It was a new day …. a time they had looked for and prayed for …. the city fairly vibrated with excitement. This quiet man on the donkey had raised the dead!
Those who called out, “Who is this man?” were told repeatedly: “Why, have you never heard? This is Jesus of Nazareth! Here is Lazarus; He raised this man from the dead. Look at him, feel him, touch him. We saw Him call Lazarus from the grave only a few days ago.”
John gives us the insight. That crowd came as much to see Lazarus as to see Jesus. People are so hungry for miracle. So anxious to see a sign.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Jesus stopped, dismounted from the donkey, and moved inside the temple. Here He found another roaring din of activity. It was Passover time. Pilgrims were getting their shekels changed. They were exchanging their Roman money for the money that was required for the temple tax. They were charged an exorbitant extra fee on each transaction — going and coming.
They also had to purchase pigeons or lambs or rams or oxen that were housed in convenient nearby stalls. Here was the pungent smell of livestock. There were hawkers barking their wares. It was a raucous noise. It grated upon the sensitivity of Jesus.
He saw a rope that had once led an animal to the temple enclosure. Jesus took the cord and doubled it up. He walked quietly yet resolutely over to the money-changers. With two strong carpenter’s arms, knotted with muscles …. He overturned the table!
Coins went clattering over the stone pavement. The money-changers and peddlers shrieked at Him as they reached down to try to retrieve their coins. Triumphantly, He stood between the white columns of the temple enclosures and proclaimed in a voice booming deep with authority:
“My Father’s house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Those little people with the clouded eyes, with the scratchy voices, looked again at each other and quoted from scripture:
” ‘The zeal for thine house hath consumed me.’ Can this not be the Messiah!” they asked each other.
Immediately the temple guard was dispatched. They came with their swords drawn. They had ropes strapped around their waists with which to tie Him up. They had clubs and daggers. The Pharisees and Sadducees gathered there — strange bed-fellows in this political-religious scene.
“By what authority do you do this? Who is your authority? they demanded, their faces crimson with rage and embarrassment.
Jesus looked them squarely in the eye. The temple guards were restrained because the people hung on His every word. They gathered around Him as their true hero.
Jesus said, “I will ask you a question. John the Baptist … by whose authority did he baptize?”
They retreated into a little huddle and reasoned together: “If we say that John’s baptism was from heaven, He will want to know why we didn’t respond to it, but if we say it was not of God, the people who loved John will riot and rebel against us.”
They came back and said, “We cannot tell you by what authority John baptized.” Jesus, with a knowing look, glanced around the crowd as if to say, “I told you so!” Then He looked back sternly at them and said, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Obviously, those blind to John’s charisma wouldn’t recognize the same vintage deity in Jesus. The little people finally had a hero! They had a man who obviously loved them, who cared about their plight. Had He not said on the quiet hillside north of the Sea of Galilee, “Blessed are ye poor, blessed!”
Had not He told them that God loved them individually, that He knew their names, that He knew how many hairs they had on their heads, that He was intimately concerned with their family problems, that He would provide the food and shelter they needed daily?
Had He not taught them to pray in thanksgiving for the bread on their table? They had a hero! It was their moment! Their shining exoneration!
They gathered around Him, proud of what He had said and done. Oh, the years they had been intimidated by these Sadducees who had taken the hard-earned shekels from them for a temple tax! They had no voice about what went on in the temple. They could not vote on officers.
Annas and Caiaphas strutted around in the ostentatious regal robes of office. Caiaphas had never raised a dead man. Annas manipulated the Sanhedrin through his son-in-law, but he had never cared about the people’s problems.
They were just so many sheep to be shorn each year at the Passover time. They had the obligation of the Torah laid heavily upon them. They had more than 400 laws just for the keeping of the sabbath. These were heavy burdens.
How they had thrilled when Jesus said — in their presence, in an eye-to-eye contact with the Pharisees — “You hypocrites, you bind heavy burdens on the backs of others, but you will not lift a finger to help them bear the burdens.” Yes, this was their day!
But that which was a song on Sunday became a death-scream of revenge on Friday. It was the mentality of a mob. There was fear everywhere. Oh, how afraid they were! The strange and eerie silence of God, the maddening and inflexible rigidity of the Pharisaical laws, all of this caused them to fear.
Do you remember the ninth chapter of John? A man born blind had been healed by Jesus. His parents, rather than risk being kicked out of the synagogue, disowned him, and he was kicked out of the synagogue. To them it meant ostracism from the family of God, the people of Israel. They could not risk the loss of their national identity. It was the one thing that held them together.
A Messiah is Misinterpreted
On Friday, when representatives of the religious orders mixed with the crowd and cried out for the crucifixion of Jesus, they forgot Palm Sunday. They saw Jesus — with some strange kind of myopic double-vision — as synonymous with Barabbas, who was later released.
These people misinterpreted His kingdom. They had hoped He came into Jerusalem on that Sunday to form a political kingdom once again theirs. They wanted revenge on the Romans. They had misinterpreted the overt parable of the entry on the donkey. Here was a man not like a warrior on a white horse, but a man of peace on the back of a donkey, meek and humble, a Prince of Peace.
This account from the last week in Jesus’ life is in all four of the gospels. If you read all four of them, you will pick up the words that were pronounced by the archangel at His birth: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth.”
They misinterpreted this parable enacted by His coming on the back of the donkey. But don’t we make the same mistake? Don’t we try to use Jesus for our secular pursuits? Don’t we try to take the good that has come to us in the gospel and turn it to our own use?