On the morrow a great multitude that had come to the feast,I have spent the last few days thinking about palm leaves and donkeys.
when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
took the branches of the palm trees,
and went forth to meet him,
and cried out,
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,
even the King of Israel.
having found a young ass,
John 12:12-14 RV
An early school memory of mine is about Palm Sunday. I can't exactly remember the teacher, but I do remember her telling us about the palm leaves and the donkey. There were crowds of people cheering Jesus as he was their King.
At the age of 8 or whatever, I accepted that. I didn't strike me as wrong but it wasn't amazing. If there was a robot involved, I probably would have responded more.
Last year, I experienced my first Palm Sunday. As it was leading up to my Baptism, I guess I was thinking about other things. Palm Sunday "happened", and things moved on into Holy Week.
However, this year Palm Sunday has been full of meaning and feeling for me. The Palm Sunday service was rich and alive. The service bought the feeling of the event to life. It was something to feel.
Getting home, I started to think about the meaning of it all. What difference does it really make if Jesus did ride upon a donkey, and a crowd waved palm leaves at him? If this didn't happen, would he still have been crucified?
Looking through all four accounts of the event, and with a bit of background, the meaning of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem becomes clear.
In Jesus' time, palm leaves were used as a sign of welcome for victorious soldiers returning from battle. These first believers were welcoming Jesus as one who was to be victorious; maybe he would release them from Roman control.
Yet, he was riding a donkey. (Matthew has an ass and a colt; Mark and Luke, a colt; John, an ass's colt). If Jesus intended to be seen as a victor, he would have ridden a horse, as would be befitting a conquering hero. A donkey (or colt, or ass) is a far humbler animal, and one that would be recognised as such by many.
But as both Matthew and John tell us, the meaning is far more precise:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O daughter of Jerusalem:
behold, thy king cometh unto thee:
he is just, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Zechariah 9:9 RV
The Messiah would be just, have salvation. He would be humble.
Jesus most certainly was these things.
And he was riding a donkey.