Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The events of the closing chapters of Mark (chapters 11 to 16) are remembered in the church calendar as “Holy Week.” The long journey that began beside the Jordan River is over. Since Mark doesn’t mention dates or months of the year, this journey has been estimated to be between one and three years.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
By choosing to ride into Jerusalem, Jesus is fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Instead of a coronation, kings were anointed by pouring a container of oil over their head, and they rode donkeys to their anointing. Both King David and King Solomon are spoken of riding donkeys, rather than horses.
So, Jesus rides to the gates of Jerusalem like a king. Even though Mark uses the word “colt” that applies to young horses as well as donkeys, we assume that it is a donkey.
Seeing Jesus, riding toward Jerusalem, a crowd joins in and makes a parade of it. What they do is a very humble and improvised version of the parades they had seen before. Everyone would have seen King Herod travel around with banners going before him, and perhaps a servant waving a fan to keep him cool in the heat of the day. The bigger parades would have been the arrival and departure of Roman troops and officials, with large wagons, many banners, marching soldiers, and musicians.
The waving of branches mimics the waving of banners and fans. The cloaks on the colt and the road are to add some color to the event and to make Jesus more comfortable. The people are shouting to make up for the lack of trumpets and drums.
The word “hosanna” is yelled as the people walk before Jesus as he rides. “Hosanna” isn’t so much a word as a cheer or an expression of joy. The closest word to “hosanna” in English is “hooray!”
The crowd is also quoting Psalm 118, which describes a victory parade on the way to the Temple of Jerusalem. Here are verses 19 to 26 of Psalm 118:
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The crowd also greets Jesus as a descendant of King David, and as if David himself was returning to them, a thousand years after David’s death.
The whole parade covered a distance of less than 1.7 miles and probably lasted twenty minutes or less, but it is significant because Jesus is presenting himself to the people of Jerusalem as “the anointed one” (“Christ” in Greek, “Messiah” in Hebrew). This little parade announces a threat to King Herod’s throne and is received by the Pharisees and Scribes as a challenge to their power.
The parade ends anti-climactically with a visit to the Temple courts, and then a retracing of the parade route back to Bethany, where he was spending the nights with the Twelve. In other Gospel accounts, we are told he is staying at the Bethany home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. Mark confirms the village of Bethany as the home base during these Holy Week passages, but later mentions it is also the home of a man named Simon.
We know that some of the disciples did not want to come to Jerusalem for fear of the Pharisees and for what Herod did to John the Baptist. They probably saw this joyful parade as a sign that their fears were unfounded, but they had heard Jesus speak repeatedly of his approaching death. It was a very emotional time that was filled with high hopes and terrible fears.
Jesus leaves and enters Jerusalem repeatedly, but not with parades. The parade has served its purpose. It is an announcement that Jesus will be confrontational with the powers that control the city. The officials are bracing themselves for an uprising from their own people, more of a riot than a military attack. We know that the Pharisees and scribes have already been planning to kill Jesus, but Herod also must wonder if Jesus is a political threat.
Jesus and his people are strangely non-violent through all of this, but he could already be arrested for heresy and treason. He is forcing the hand of the people in power to deal with him soon and violently.
The only hesitancy on the part of the religious leaders and Herod, rises from the fact that Jesus is very popular. His fame as a healer and teacher has spread his fame throughout the city, but he will soon disappoint many of the people of Jerusalem. Jesus is not the warrior-king that they were hoping for.
Questions to Ponder: What do you suppose Jesus felt as he rode toward Jerusalem? Many of the events of the coming chapters happen without miracles. The only minor “miracle” of this chapter is the borrowing of the donkey. Why would Jesus choose his final week in Jerusalem to teach rather than to heal?