Branches, Cloaks, and Donkeys (Matthew 21:1-11)

donkey-Here we go. Palm Sunday. Now it’s all happening, right? But you might be asking, “is not Easter for another month? So how are we at Palm Sunday already?” Well, one of the things about Matthew, in particular, is there is a lot that happens between Palm Sunday and Easter. So this text comes early in Lent for us so that we can tend to all that happens between here and Easter. When we get to actual Palm Sunday in worship, we will move back to this story.

This is a long celebrated story, also referred to as the “Triumphal Entry”. Jesus comes into Jerusalem, with Passover approaching, and people are recognizing him for just who Matthew continues to construct him to be: The Messiah. They lay down their cloaks and wave branches, something you do for a king. It’s a kind of literal way to “prepare the way” as John the Baptist called us to do in chapter three. And they cry “Hosanna”, which means “save us”, and the label him “Son of David”, which is a Messianic title. It is one of the few Sundays of the Church Year when we actually act out the story. Why don’t we do that more?

There is a more than one blog worth of material in this story, but suffice it to say this: There’s one little problem in Jesus’ so-called “Triumphal Entry”. Everything about it indicates that Jesus is this powerful king who will liberate the people. He is like a knight in shining armor who’s come to rescue. Except for one thing: Knights and kings ride horses, not donkeys. Jesus is coming in as a king, but just what kind of king? This is not a king who rides in on a horse as a warrior. This is a king who rides in on a donkey, a beast of burden, because he is a king who isn’t served but is one who serves.

Jesus will liberate not by wielding military power over an enemy. No, he will liberate by standing in sacrificial power with the oppressed. The dismantling of oppressive systems that Jesus has been about throughout the Gospel happens not through the usual political means. It comes in a whole other kind of way. It will come through the humble strength of solidarity and sacrificial nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.

Just stay tuned. You’ll see. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.


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