Weekly Mediation - 9th April 2017
Matthew’s gospel is about a journey to Jerusalem. Although Luke writes about the young Jesus’ presentation at the Temple (2:21) - and Jesus must indeed have undergone this ceremony – Matthew makes no mention of it. John sets a visit to Jerusalem at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (2:13), but again Matthew says nothing about it. Matthew’s only hint that Jesus was in Jerusalem earlier in his ministry is in the story of his temptation where the Devil takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple and challenges him to throw himself down (4:5-6), but this may have been only in a vision, comparable to his view of 'all the kingdoms of the world' (4:8-9). From 16:21, however, Matthew makes it plain that Jesus’ purpose is to 'go to Jerusalem and suffer many things'.
Jesus’ entry into the Holy City is therefore a dramatic event, long anticipated in Matthew’s narrative. 'Palm Sunday', as it has come to be known, marks the beginning of Jesus’ final week that culminates in his crucifixion and resurrection. The Triumphal Entry was the first of three symbolic acts setting the scene for the coming conflict in Jerusalem – the other two being the cleansing of the Temple (21:12-13), and the cursing of the barren fig tree (21:18-21).
Jesus is a King like no other. As events later in that week were to demonstrate, his was a different Kingdom, and he sought subjects who were ready to put aside worldly values and attributes, and to follow a servant king. In entering his city, 'gentle, and riding on a donkey' (21:5), Jesus was fulfilling prophecy (Zechariah 9:9), and showing himself to be the righteous, saving, humble Messiah whom Zechariah had foretold, and whose Kingdom would establish peace 'from sea to sea' (see Zechariah 9:10).
Jesus’ entry was orchestrated – careful planning had clearly gone into ensuring the availability of the donkey (21:1-3). But the reaction of the crowdswho were entering Jerusalem with Jesus – probably mostly Galileans – was spontaneous. They recognised the significance of Jesus’ actions and responded with words from the Psalms, and with the spreading of palm branches and cloaks (21:8-9).
The apostle Paul was later to write about the humility and obedience of Jesus in becoming our Messiah 'who being in very nature God...he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant' (Philippians 2:6-7). Kings usually conquered with a show of worldly splendour and power; Jesus achieved a far greater victory – over sin and death itself – by means of humility and obedience. Jesus was willing to undergo rejection and suffering in order to bring about our salvation. When he entered Jerusalem, resolute to complete his purpose, a crowd of peasantshailed him. But now he is 'exalted to the highest place' and given a name 'above every name' so that finally, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).
On Palm Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ entry into the Holy City and visualise him humbly riding a donkey, we must remember, as we do at Christmas, that 'he came down to earth from heaven , who is God and Lord of all'.