Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

April 19, 2000
See Also: 

Lenten Candle Liturgy
John Cobb on redemption
Biblical Preaching on the Death of Jesus (Cobb)

Reading 2: 
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Reading 4: 
Mark 11:1-11
By David Roy

While this psalm provides the model for Jesus’ joyous entry into Jerusalem, it embodies a theme, which is absent in the events, which carried Jesus into the holy city. “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous…,” says v. 15 of the psalm. It was written to celebrate the homecoming of a king victorious in battle. Today we generally accept the fact that people use categories shaped by prior experience to interpret current events. If some of Jesus’ contemporaries were calling him the Messiah, the King of the Jews, this could have reinforced the interpretation of him as a military leader set to do battle for control of the Jews. Then, his actions would be seen as akin to a military assault, particularly when he acted in an aggressive manner with the moneychangers and other merchants at the temple. This is speculation, of course, but we do commonly accept that Jesus deliberately chose non-military tactics while nonetheless being quite emphatic about his message of God’s universal love in the face of tremendous inequities. This was, and remains, a highly provocative message for those with vested interests in the status quo.

It is worth noting that the psalm begins and ends with unequivocal affirmation of God’s “steadfast love [that] endures forever.” While the body of the psalm ties this to the king’s victory, this is a recurring idea, which seems to endure and eventually at least partially transcends any particular event. It becomes a proposition with a life of its own, with the power to judge and shape human behavior, finally emerging at the center of Jesus’ prophetic ministry.

This psalm also is used on Easter Sunday, with slightly different verses. See the lectionary verses for Easter.

This text brings home the understanding that Jesus is the Messiah. There is a strong parallel with the description of the Messiah found in Zechariah 9:9, as has been long noted. The Messiah of Zechariah combines contrasting qualities of power and humility. Through his strength, he brings peace to a warring region. In Mark, Jesus is described in a manner that implies he saw himself as the Messiah (a leader because of his power) about to enter Jerusalem in a humble manner. He directs his disciples to seek out a colt, closely paralleling Zechariah. As a rabbi, Jesus would be assumed to know this story. Contemporary biblical scholars tend to agree that this story is a gift from the early church designed to cement Jesus as the Messiah in the minds of the early followers. How else could they explain the power of this man? Because of this, unfortunately, we are left in the dark about the actual manner in which Jesus entered Jerusalem. While these facts may remain unclear, we can celebrate this rich gift from the early church as strong testimony to the nature and strength of God’s Spirit they encountered in Jesus.

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