Year B Palm Sunday: Mark 11,1-10

11:01 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany,
close by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples

11:02 and said to them, 'Go to the village facing you, and as you enter it you will
at once find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here.

11:03 If anyone says to you, "What are you doing?" say,
"The Master needs it and will send it back here at once." '

11:04 They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street.
As they untied it,

11:05 some men standing there said, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?'

11:06 They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and the men let them go.

11:07 Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he mounted it.

11:08 Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others greenery which they had cut in the fields.

11:09 And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, 'Hosanna!
Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!

11:10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of David our father! Hosanna in the highest heavens!'

In the first line of his Gospel Mark promised to tell us the ‘Good Message’ about Jesus, Messiah (Christ). The words ‘Good Message’ refer to Isaiah. According to Isaiah ‘Good Message’ means that The Lord will come to Jerusalem to found his kingship there. He will do that in the person of his Messiah. Since we know that Jesus is the Messiah, today we hear that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: in the person of Jesus-Messiah, God’s kingship did come to Jerusalem. What a moment.

Peter Clare, detail Mark painting

In the Old Testament the bodily son of David, Solomon, took his kingship upon him... by riding a mule (1 Kings 1:38-40). The prophet Zechariah (9:9) used that image to announce the coming of the Messiah: ‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ And most stunning is that Jesus organized all this himself by sending out two disciples to pick up the colt!

The people shout ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!’  That is a citation from Psalm 118:25-26. The original meaning of the word ‘hosanna’ is: ‘Save us!’ It was a prayer to be saved, directed to the king (2 Samuel 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). By using the word ‘Hosanna!’ the people make Jesus their king. Moreover, in the word ‘hosanna’ we hear a reference to Jesus’ Aramaic name Je-hos-ua.

But in the course of time the word ‘Hosanna’ became a jubilation. It was used at the Feast of Tabernacles as a refrain for the Psalms. People waved with branches (!) and they celebrated that God’s kingship was approaching (!). All that is exactly what happens on the occasion of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. How many lines from the Old Testament come together at this moment?

The people shout, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Would Jesus-Messiah not come to Jerusalem to found God’s Kingship there? This was the moment. Still,  not yet. For the story continues till the moment that ‘the king of the Jews’ is crucified. Above his head: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews’ (Mark 15:26).

Picture Meditation

We are in the Old Church in Delft, Netherlands; we are looking at a stained-glass window of Joep Nicolas, 1957. The artist beatifully uses the construction of the windows. The centre part is destined for Jesus upon his donkey. The outer parts on the left and the right are filled with cherishing people. Their mouths make clear that they are just singing ‘Ho(sanna)!’ They spread their garments on the ground: a sign that they submit themselves to Jesus. Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem required the cherishing with branches; these branches evoked the word ‘Hosanna!’ as if it were the Feast of Tabernacles when people celebrated the coming of God’s kingship! And all that is now adapted to Jesus.

The artist underlines this by the blessing of Jesus’ right hand. Moreover he dresses Jesus in a stainless white undergarment and in a red garment, colour of love... and martyrdom. That preludes what will happen a few days later. Then the crowd will shout, ‘Crucify him!’ He will be humiliated and crucified with a sign above his head, ‘King of the Jews.’ It will be the moment that he gives his life for the message of charity and forgiveness. In Christian art martyrs are pictured with a palm branch, the palm of victory. Now we realise that Jesus himself has a palm branch as well in his left hand...

Not often is this scene is pictured this way. Most of the time we see Jesus passing us from the side. Here Jesus is pictured frontally. He comes right in my direction. What does that do with me? How will I receive him? Do I sing also? Do I share?

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ