Thought for the week, 23rd March; What did Jesus mean on Palm Sunday?

This Sunday, 24th March, is Palm Sunday, when we commemorate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. According to the Gospels, he was greeted by cheering crowds who laid palms before him. Five days later the crowd turned on him and he was crucified. In many churches, on Sunday, palm crosses will be distributed to the congregation; a few will have a donkey, or a donkey-substitute at church as well. The crowd on Palm Sunday would have thought they knew exactly what they were doing with their palms; this was a well known way within ancient Israel of greeting a triumphant leader. It may well have been especially associated in their minds with the Maccabean Revolt around 150 to 200 years earlier, when Israel last successfully rose against an oppressive occupier; palms were laid in the path of the leader who, for a period, won the country freedom by a military campaign. The donkey was not just the mount of those too poor to have a horse; again in ancient Israel, it was also ridden by kings, the rich and the powerful; King David himself rode a donkey. When Jesus picked a donkey to ride, he was almost certainly thinking of a prophecy in the Old Testament that spoke of Israel’s Messiah entering Jerusalem humble and lowly, riding on a donkey, but elsewhere in the prophecy, it looks like this only happened after this Messiah had triumphed in battle to overcome Israel’s enemies.  My guess is that many, perhaps all, in the crowd, would not have understood what Jesus really intended with the donkey; that in him, God had arrived in triumph but unthinkably, the path to his kingdom would lead to his execution as a criminal. Power was being redefined in a way nobody expected. It a lesson we still, so often, do not understand.