Looking back, it is almost impossible to miss the strategy building toward death. But, as is so often the case, the power of the moments overwhelm their meaning. Coming into Jerusalem by the old road at the beginning of the Holy Week leading to Passover on the very day the Passover Lamb would have been chosen for the up coming remembrance, Jesus had to have been conscious of the deep irony – different for him than for anyone else in the crowd. For the crowds, Passover was the celebration of liberation from Egypt – the birthday of Israel as a nation. Jesus’ reputation had clearly preceded him – and the streets were lined with aspirational well-wishers, casting their hopes along with their cloaks on to the street in front of him.
The palm branches, which in popular memory celebrated the Jewish victory of Judas Maccabeus over their oppressors a century and a half before, were a clear challenge to the Roman occupying force. Perhaps the crowds were so caught up in their frenzied longing for help from this new deliverer Messiah, their Hosanna’s echoing along the narrow streets heralding His entrance, that they didn’t notice He was riding on a donkey – a lowly beast of burden. He knew Who He was and would be true to Himself until the very end.
It must have surprised more than a few that, instead of confronting the Roman legions, Jesus made His way into the temple – and cleared the Court of the Gentiles. Instead of being a place in which the Gentiles could come and pray, it had become a place of business. And shady business at that, as unscrupulous merchants charged a premium to the out-of-towners purchasing animals for sacrifice. Apparently the rituals of worship for the faithful were not to be allowed to exclude the stranger and alien; they, too, had a place in which they could come before the Father. The salvation He came to bring would not leave anyone out. Besides, by week’s end, the animal sacrifices would not be needed any longer.
His answer to the calls for deliverance were to be answered on a much deeper level than they imagined – and perhaps more than they wanted. The expectation of deliverance in the way we think best tends to blind us to the wonder of deliverance in any other way. So much so that, along with the rest of the crowd, we might well find ourselves in a few days time, turning on the One to Whom we had first called for help!
Until I have fully come to terms with the fact of my dying, I won’t be ready for any salvation which does not promise to extend what I think is living. That, perhaps, is why it is so hard to keep thinking – even occasionally – about the day of my death. To do so would be to remind me of Jesus’ gracious invitation to join Him as He courageously leads the way to Death. The only way to Life.
Hosanna! Save Us!