The other triumphal entry — Matthew 21:6–11

The King’s judgements

I love a sporting victory parade. The Olympic- and Paralympic parades through London in 2012 and 2016 were glorious events of sporting achievements were glorious events, as was the 2019 parade in Liverpool to celebrate them winning the UEFA Champions League that year. Sporting parades are generally happy events, though the crowd occasionally get out of hand in their excitement.

Two large symbolic red and blue lions and a marching band lead out the victory parade to celebrate the medal winners of the 2012 Paralympic and Olympic Games on London.
The victory parade for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London

Military victory parades are something different, they are about controlling people, especially when they are by a foreign power showing the people who’s boss. Even in their own country I am dubious of military parades; the annual parades in front of the Kremlin in Russia were both a threat to foreign powers and a display to keep their own people in control.

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Matthew 21:6-11 ESVUK

The triumphal entry

Matthew’s Gospel has been following Jesus and his disciples journey from Galilee to Jericho and up to Jerusalem. While that has been going on there has been a triumpal entry into Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate and a cohort or two of soldiers have come from the real capital city of Judea, Caesarea, from which the Romans ruled to Jerusalem where the Jews are about to celebrate a festival of national sovereinty, the Passover, the time when Israel became a nation. Pilate, in his special decorated toga on his chariot pulled by war-horses with accompanying troops was a clear sign to the Jews that they did not have sovereignty. Rome is in control.

The not so triumphal entry

Jesus, on the other hand, is being very low key. He has come in secret down the wrong side of the River Jordan and is now approaching Jerusalem by the wrong gate, this is the back way in, not the route for a triumphal entry. He is in normal clothes, and riding a pack animal, all very normal things. It is also very planned. The people have been told that the sign of the messiah, who they see as a military leader, is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people outside Jerusalem proclaim a king. The people inside Jerusalem have other ideas.

The people inside Jerusalem

The Romans

What Jesus is doing is deliberate and provocative. This is an acted out satire of the Roman victory parade. Someone is saying through parody that the Romans are not really the ones who are in control. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, has a reputation for being brutal, in a few years, 37AD he will be called back to Rome because his treatment of the Samarian uprising is too brutal even for Rome. It takes a special severity to be too brutal for Rome, which was no liberal state. So why does Pilate in the Gospel accounts try to free Jesus? The only thing I can think of is that it will upset the Jewish authorities who are demanding that he act against Jesus. Antisemitism has a long history.

The Jewish authorities

The crowds outside Jerusalem were loudly proclaiming. “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Inside Jerusalem the people said, “Who is this?” Jesus was not a priest or a member of the Sanhedrin, a religious council with a lot of political clout. They ask “Who is this?” A nobody with no authority.

Up to this point Jesus has been ministering to individuals and to groups that came out to him. He has kept a low profile, visiting neighbouring countries when thing became difficult. He has travelled to Jerusalem by a convoluted route down the wrong side of the River Jordan, but now he is making himself public, ab act that asks a question first asked in private to Peter and the other disciples, “Who do you say that I am?

That question does not go away, it is asked to all people of every generation. It is a question for you. Who do you say Jesus is?

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