The excitement and anticipation in this passage is tangible (see Matthew 21:1-11). The crowds gathered in order to see this strange new prophet, Jesus. They must have heard many different things about him ranging from, “That guy Jesus is a nutcase,” to “Have you heard about Jesus? He is the one we have been waiting for!” There was probably a lot of pushing, shoving, and grumbling going on so people could catch a glimpse of Jesus. The people in the crowd even put their cloaks down on the road for Jesus to walk on. They are shouting “Hosanna,” which literally means “save us,” or “save now.” Obviously, they were looking to Jesus to be their savior—to overthrow the Roman government and bring them peace and prosperity. Jesus was seen as the Messiah—a great King who will liberate his people.
Jesus, however, was not the kind of king the Jews expected. Yes, he is a prophet, but he is much more. He is the son of the Living God, who came not just to rescue the Jews from Roman oppression, but to usher in all of us into the kingdom of God. Kings and rulers usually come with power, might and glory. I wonder if the people in Jerusalem who were shouting Hosanna remembered the part of the prophecy that described their king as “humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Humility is about the last thing one would expect out of a king, but humility is something that Jesus embraces.
Jesus was not the kind of king that the Jews expected. I’m sure that many of them wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman rulers and put the Jews in a position of power. They wanted someone to take vengeance on their oppressors. However, Jesus was first and foremost a suffering servant. He emphasized love of neighbor and serving one another. In Matthew 5, Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Surely, this is not what the oppressed Jews in Jerusalem wanted to hear from their supposed liberator. Instead of fighting against the Roman government, Jesus called them to pray for them.
Jesus came to bring freedom, but not the kind of freedom we expect. True freedom is found when one moves from anger and violence to forgiveness and reconciliation. Just as the Jews were during the first century, so we too are enslaved to anger. Jesus came to release us from this slavery and to free us for love of God and neighbor. Of course, it is important to acknowledge and give a legitimate place to anger—but anger must be translated into a vision of reconciliation. We must hold in tension the seemingly contradictory images of enemies found in the Bible: the cry to crush the enemies and the call to love them.
In his book The Journey Toward Reconciliation, John Paul Lederach says, “I cannot face the enemy unless I am rooted in God’s sustaining love and at the same time give myself permission to struggle with the seemingly impossible sacrifice it represents. To pursue reconciliation, we must accept the long sleepless night of fighting in ourselves with God before we can journey toward and look for the face of God in our enemy.” Friends, this is the key: we must see God in our enemies. We don’t want to be like the crowds that failed to see the face of God in Jesus and handed him over for suffering and death. We must have humility, just as Jesus did. He identified with the least of these and called for love among friends and enemies. For this, he was crucified. He was clearly not the king that the Jews had been looking for.
It is important for us to hold his entry into Jerusalem in tension with his subsequent suffering and death. The same crowds who openly praised and accepted Jesus as Messiah soon called for his death on the cross. Sometimes freedom isn’t what we expect. Just as we must move from lament to action, we must move from anger to reconciliation. So, we too can join in with the crowds in Jerusalem pleading for God to save us from our anger and divisive actions, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jessica is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. She graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina with a BS in elementary education. She served as a volunteer missionary in Costa Rica and taught second grade in Atlanta before coming to Candler.
Art note: John August Swanson, “Entry Into The City,” “Last Supper”