Last Sunday I turned from the Big Questions to focus on two clips from N. T. Wright’s visit to Cincinnati dealing with the intentional acts of Jesus during Holy Week leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. Every act of Jesus we have recorded for us in the Gospels displays his intention and vocation. He often enacted parables as well as telling them. No where is this more apparent than in two scenes in John’s version of the events leading up to Good Friday. The first is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, humble on the colt of a donkey.
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.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9:9-10)
The picture above by William Brassey Hole (1846-1917) tells the story quite well. There is more to this painting than most on the triumphal entry.
The question is simple. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, was he acting intentionally? (The clip should start at 38:36 and the relevant portion is just over 3 minutes long.)
The short answer is yes – but Wright goes on:
When Judas Maccabeus surprisingly defeated the Syrians in 164 BC and cleansed the temple, they came into Jerusalem waving palm branches. They are cleansing the temple, this is a celebration. This is all about a new Israel. At last, if we cleanse the temple and if we have a true king, then God will come back at last and dwell properly in the temple and we’ll never have to have this kind of stupid pagan stuff coming again. Now Jesus … chose Passover, that’s a really interesting phenomenon … according to John’s gospel Jesus was to and forth from Jerusalem for all the major festivals … If Jesus is going to die for the sins of the world, which moment in the Jewish calendar might he have chosen? Day of atonement, no brainer. No he doesn’t, he chooses Passover because more fundamental is the rescue, the rescue from the Pharaoh, the rescue from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the whole narrative of Exodus and Passover. And Jesus is deliberately reenacting that narrative through the lens of Zechariah chapter 9. Your king comes to you humble and riding on … a colt, the foal of a donkey. And the symbolism with the scriptural echoes is so typical of how lots of Jews thought and acted. But particularly how Jesus himself thought and acted. So many of his parables are full of biblical echoes which are about: this is how the kingdom of God comes, even though it’s surprising. So yes, it is deeply intentional but also kind of quizzical and paradoxical and forces people to think, and forces people into an awkward position where they have to make some decisions too. So yeah, when I was younger I just thought, so OK Jesus found a donkey and rode into Jerusalem. That’s what you do. But no, people didn’t do that … This is a very carefully staged piece of theologically motivated street theater. And it works like that. And Jesus knew exactly what buttons he was pressing and what was going to happen.