By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 9 April, 2017
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands
Today we read Matthew’s account of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem from the village of Bethphage, east of Jerusalem. Jesus had sent two of his disciples to commandeer a donkey and a colt for his use. St Mark and St Luke only mention the colt in their account, so did Matthew get it wrong or is he making a special point? What is clear is that he wants us to note that Jesus staged his entry into Jerusalem to present himself publicly as the son of David, the king of Israel.
Jesus approaches the city from the east, from the Jordan valley, and in Jewish writings it was expected that the Messiah would come from the east. At Jesus’ birth, Wise Men came from the east to greet Jesus as the new king of Israel, and now he enters the great city from the east as the Messiah and Saviour of God’s people.
His entry was not a triumphal one with armies, trumpets and Jesus riding of a white horse, but it was nevertheless a royal entry. The great King David’s royal beast was a donkey, and when his son Absalom rebelled against David and died because he got caught in the branches of a tree, he was riding a donkey (2 Sam 18:9). The heir of King Saul, Mephibosheth rode a donkey as a symbol of his claim that he would make for the House of Saul if Absalom had defeated David.
Absalom’s attempted coup failed, so when David wanted to secure his kingdom for his son Solomon, he sent Solomon to Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to be anointed king, riding on a donkey (1 Kings 1:32-40).
St Matthew emphasises his point about Jesus’ kingship by quoting words from the prophet Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11), about the coming of God’s king to Jerusalem. Jesus did not enter the city to rescue her from her enemies, but to confront her people with their sins.
So why does Matthew mention two animals? The donkey is the royal beast, but the colt is the son of a packhorse, a symbol of humility and meekness. Jesus the messiah, king of Israel will reign in the hearts of those who respond to God’s love shown to us through his suffering and death.
The crowds who follow Jesus into the city take their cue from the blind men Jesus encountered in Jericho and shouted words from psalm 118:26, “Hosanna to the son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
In contrast, the inhabitants of the city have a very different reaction. They do not rejoice. They are disturbed, shaken and confused when the accompanying crowds describe Jesus as the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. There is one other time in his gospel that Matthew tells us that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were disturbed, and this is when the Wise Men call on king Herod to ask him where the new king had been born.
Once again, Jerusalem is disturbed when its king enters the holy city, the place of God’s presence and delight. Yet it is the city where God’s prophets have been murdered, and now plans were hatched to murder the Son of the God the inhabitants thought they were protecting.
This week we will recall the events that took place in Jerusalem during the days following Jesus’ entry into the city, and it is very important that we do so especially during the three holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day. We come together on these days, not only to hear the story but also to make it our own. It is the story of our salvation when God reveals his glory to us through his love.