When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.
Most people don’t know this, but on the first Palm Sunday there were actually two processions into the city of Jerusalem. One of them came into the city from the west, and was designed to show the splendor and might of the one who was known as the “son of god,” “lord,” and “savior,” who had come to bring “peace on earth.” The other procession came into the city from the west… And featured Jesus riding on a donkey.
Didn’t see that coming, did you?
It was the week of Passover, and on the week of every major Jewish festival, the Roman Governor (Pontius Pilate) would ride into the city with Roman troops dressed in their resplendent uniforms to send a message to the Jews gathering to celebrate: don’t try anything. I mean, Passover is a celebration about a Israelites winning their freedom from oppression… So, the Roman Empire had something to worry about.
And, Pilate’s procession was also meant to emphasize the theology of the Roman Empire, ruled by an emperor who they claimed was a god in his own right. He was said to be a son of Apollo, born of a virgin, and was given the divine titles of “savior” and “lord” who had come to finally bring peace on earth.
Jesus’ procession with simple palm branches and shouts of “hosanna” (which means “God saves”… take that Caesar!) was a counterprocession – an act of protest – against the Roman Governor and his Emperor. And, it was a demonstration of what the Kingdom of God, over and against the kingdoms of this world, is really all about: our Lord and Savior, Jesus.