04.05.20 Palm Sunday
Updated: Apr 16
“The Entry into Jerusalem”
By Duccio di Buoninsegna
(Y ca. 1255, Siena, X 1319, Siena)
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena.
The scene depicts Christ riding on a donkey up to the city-gate of Jerusalem. The scene is unusual because of the attention given to the landscape, which is rich in detail:
The paved road, the city gate with battlements, the wall embrasures, the slender towers rising up above and the polygonal building of white marble reproduce a remarkably realistic layout.
“As he enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, the disciples recognize Jesus as the Messiah, for by his action he fulfils the prophecy ‘Rejoice Daughter of Sion: behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey.’
They respond by singing Psalm 118, the great Halleluja. Notice the withered fig tree, cursed by Jesus for not bearing fruit. This indicates the end of the Old Dispensation and the beginning of the New Covenant in Christ. Notice also the open door in the foreground. The artist, Duccio, who painted this picture in 1311, is inviting us to come in and to join the disciples and follow Jesus.”
Understanding the transition from the O.T. to the Messianic times, as Jesus makes his way to Calvary, we can see two characters climbing two of the trees, the one behind Jesus is gathering fruits for himself, the one before Jesus is sharing the fruits of the tree with by-standers.
Matthew 21: 1-11
1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying: 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
In Chapter 20 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus announces his death and resurrection for the third time. He wants to prepare the disciples for what lies ahead as they make their way to Jerusalem.
They start the journey from Jericho. While leaving the town, Jesus gives sight to the two blind men. The blind men with their sight restored, are able to follow Jesus on this journey to Calvary. This miracle anticipates what is going to happen in Jerusalem, because, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus can only be understood through the eyes of faith. However, without faith, even Jesus’ disciples remain trapped in their own selfish interests that lead to broken relationships.
Jericho is 12.5 miles from Jerusalem, a very steep journey starting at 820 feet (BSL) and reaching up to 2,500 feet (ASL). Travelling on foot such a long distance would give him time to arrive in Jerusalem at dusk. Jesus, supposedly left Jericho in the morning hours, but not very early, otherwise he would not have met beggars in the streets. On arriving in Jerusalem at dusk, Jesus would probably have had time just to walk around the Temple.
However, Matthew wants to give more importance to the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem. In this Gospel, Jesus goes to the Temple, heals the lame and the blind, and chases away the money changers, though it is unlikely that by that time of the evening, there would have been much activity in and around the Temple. It all indicates that Matthew wants to show that Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is the most immediate reason that led to his arrest.
Jesus is about to cross the Kidron Valley and enter Jerusalem through the road that goes from Mount of Olives to the city gate. Soon, Jesus will walk this path, to enter into Jerusalem, not as a triumphant (though humble) king riding a donkey, but as a criminal (seized with clubs and spears).
The Prophecy of Zechariah
Jesus stops to instruct the disciples on how he wants to enter Jerusalem. He wants to perform a prophetic sign. The ritual that Jesus performed year after year for the celebration of the Passover festivals has a special meaning on this occasion. The sign He wants to perform is taken from the prophecy of Zechariah (Zec. 9).
The author of the Gospel of Matthew reads the Greek translation of an original Hebrew text of the prophecy of Zechariah. The translation he uses does not take into account the Hebrew literary poetic gender called parallelism. Even if the original text of the Prophet mentions a “donkey” that is “a colt, the foal of a donkey”, the Greek text interprets that there are two animals: a donkey and a colt.
Matthew wants to show that Jesus fulfilled the OT prophecies to the smallest detail. Therefore, to justify the presence of two animals, the donkey is given a feminine gender (“with her”) to make us understand that the colt is there with its mother. Obviously, Jesus would ride just one animal.
A Triumphant yet Humble King
Jews were skeptical about horses. Horse were used for wars. Simple people would ride donkeys or mules. Jesus chose the humble state of a normal peasant, instead of the array of a powerful king coming from battle. However, He decided to enter the city gate, not on foot as He always did every year and as all people would normally do, but on the back of a donkey .
The crowd of people precedes Jesus into the city while shouting a triple hymn. The acclamations they sing are taken from Psalm 118, a hymn sung when the king entered the city after the victory over the enemy:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Herod the Great (V 4 b.C.) was the last king to rule Israel. Cesar had promised Herod to crown his son Archelaus king of the Jews, but he never did that. Instead, Archelaus was removed by the Roman Emperor Augustus and the Judaea Province came under direct rule of the Emperor.
Claim to kingship at the time was a grave offence against the Roman Emperor and it was punished by death. The gesture of spreading the cloaks and branches on the road, shows the crowd’s recognition of Jesus’ Kingship; therefore, the proclamation of Jesus as king in the streets of the city is more than a children’s game, it is a very serious revolutionary statement.
The Gospel of Matthew opened with the proclamation of Jesus as son of Jesse, son of David, and it finds its fulfilment when Jesus is recognized by the peoples of Jerusalem as the awaited Messiah, Son of David, Son of God. However, the people who acclaim him think of his kingship in political terms.
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This exclamation was valid for any pilgrim who went to Jerusalem; however, this is an allusion of the coming of the Messiah, the victorious king referred to in Psalm 118.
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” is a prayer of praise to God for having sent a saviour who will free his people from the rule of the Romans, just as Moses freed Israel from the powerful hand of Pharaoh.
There is division in the city of Jerusalem on account of the entry of Jesus. What seemed a morning triumphant feast turns immediately into a bitter disagreement: there are no Prophets coming from Galilee! The tension will lead to the public condemnation of Jesus. He will be recognized not as king, but as a criminal, and worse than a criminal, because Barabbas was acquitted on account of Jesus.
Jesus, as you enter Jerusalem, we acclaim you as our Lord and Master, our Messiah, the fulfilment of our hopes.
Leaving behind our selfish desire to receive recognition, praise and respect, we want to learn from you, the holy countenance of a Son who is fully determined to do God’s will, as we repeat in our hearts once and again the cry of the multitude: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Contemplate the countenance of Jesus in front of the acclamations as if He were a prince, and in front of the unjust accusers who condemned him as if He were a false messiah. Neither glory, nor dishonour matter to Jesus.
Contemplate the joyful face of Jesus as He enters Jerusalem. He knows that He is indeed the Messiah awaited for centuries who will deliver Israel (and humanity) from the bonds, not of a political regime, but of the Evil One. Days later, his face will show the bruises, scars and the pain of being humiliated.
Contemplate Jesus so determined to doing the will of the Father. He overcame the temptation of the glories of this world and of human flattery. The evil tempter seems to have the upper hand because the divinity of Jesus now is hidden and his humanity shows the pain of one who is ill-treated.
We are about to enter the Holy Week. This year the Paschal Triduum will be celebrated in a very different way. This Lenten season has indeed been for all of us a time to give up so many “luxuries”, things that we usually give for granted.
We have been deprived of embraces, work, health, nature, freedom of movement, social life … even of prayer in common. We are invited to contemplate the sufferings of Christ in the sick, in the tired health workers, in those who overwork so that the rest of us may stay home and have food, and all we need.
This year, the Easter Proclamation will not have the echo of an exultant community, but the silence of an empty church. We contemplate the sufferings of Christ in the lives of those who have lost a beloved spouse, father, mother, son, friend, or neighbour.
Mary saw her beloved Son killed as a criminal. The loving Mother who did not abandon her Son in the most painful moments of his life, understands the pain of those who call on her for protection.
In Manus Tuas Pater,
commendo spiritum meum.
IN YOUR HANDS, FATHER, I COMMEND MY SPIRIT
 GRACEY, Lionel, “The Passion of Christ”, Great Britain, 2015, p. 5  Mt. 20:20-28  Mk. 11:1-11: “When he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  Jn. 18: 1: “He went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered”.
 Jn. 18:3: “They came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.”  Parallelism is a literary device that has parts of the writing grammatically similar. This creates an emphasis on repeated ideas.  Gen. 49:10-11: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and the obedience of the peoples is his. Binding his foal to the vine and his d
onkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes”. Judges 5:10 “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets[a] and you who walk by the way”. Judges 10:4 “He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns, which are in the land of Gilead, and are called Havvoth-jair to this day”. Judges 12:14 “He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys; he judged Israel eight years” 2 Sam. 19:27: “He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said to him, ‘Saddle a donkey for me,[f] so that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame”.  1Mac. 13:51: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the o
ne hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.”  2 Kings 9:13: “Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him on the bare steps; and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”  Lk. 24: 21: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”.