Donkeys in Biblical times were not perceived as they are today. Instead of a sign of stupidity or stubbornness, a donkey was actually a noble animal and a prized possession. They were used as a beast of burden, carrying about goods and people- both commoners and kings. When a king or one of his emissaries entered a city upon a donkey it signified they came with peaceful intentions unlike the powerful message which was sent when a king came riding a stallion. A stallion signified only one thing, “You are about to be conquered!” So, it would stand to reason in our way of thinking that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday that He would ride upon a stallion as a conqueror, since He knew what His death and resurrection were about to accomplish. But instead Jesus chose a different kind of vehicle; a humble and gentle colt. Each Gospel writer takes note of this with their own unique viewpoint (Mt. 21:1-11; Mk. 11:1-11; Lk. 19:29-44; Jn. 12:12-17) offering us a more complete picture of what has come to be known as the Triumphal Entry.
While Matthew and John were eye-witnesses to this event, Mark and Luke wrote their accounts based on what others who were there had told them. Mark’s style is that of a story teller (Mk. 1:1). Luke (always the doctor) emphasizes the psychological state of Jesus (Lk. 19:41) and John recalls the inability of the disciples to truly grasp the mission of their Master (Jn. 12:16). Matthew, however, is most concerned with prophetic fulfillment (Mt. 21:4) and makes note of a second donkey, the colt’s mother, which for the culturally savvy emphasizes the fact that the colt is unbroken and the calming effect the presence of its mother would have contributed in the midst of the crowd.
Make no mistake- the way Jesus entered Jerusalem is unquestionably a claim that He was both Messiah and King. But for Jesus, these roles were much different than what the people of His day expected. Matthew, as well as the crowd, recognized that Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 9:9). The imagery is also a reminder of King David who sent his future successor (Solomon) to the people on a donkey (1 Ki. 1:32-35). But the people of Jesus’ day were expecting the Messiah to overthrow the oppressive Romans and return Israel to the glory days of King David. By entering Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus was in a very dramatic fashion demonstrating two things: first, that He was the promised Messiah, and secondly that His mission was one of peace. One commentator put it this way, “He was not coming as a conquering king or worldly potentate in pomp and ceremony, neither was He coming as the leader of an army to kill, injure, and maim. Therefore, the people had to change their concept of the Messiah, for He was coming as the Savior of Peace.”
Like the throng of people who in their exuberant recognition of fulfilled prophecy cut down tree branches (Lk. 19:36-37) and shouted Messianic praises (Ps. 118:26; Mt. 21:9; Mk. 11:9-10; Lk. 19:38; Jn. 12:13), we too will lift our voices and sing praises on Palm Sunday. But will we make the same mistake as those who celebrated Jesus’ arrival with an impromptu parade and expect Jesus to come to us in a certain way, or in a certain role? Will we dictate to Him how He should answer our prayers, be present in our lives or solve our problems? Images of heroes have changed through the years and so has the way we perceive Jesus. Like the disciples will we misunderstand or fail to see Him as He truly is? Will we be looking for a hero who rides a dashing white stallion, commands an elaborate spaceship or drives a futuristic car when in reality He is coming to us on a donkey? Will we praise Him today because He meets our needs and on Friday deny Him and flee because we fear for ourselves more than stand for Him? Jesus has not necessarily come to rescue us from our foes and woes. But He has come to bring us peace (Jn. 14:27). Be mindful this week of the way you see Jesus!
Ann H. LeFevre , M. Div.
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