PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be still for as long as you need, then pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
READ: Mark 11:1-11 ‘The Lord needs it’
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
This story ends in one of the most anticlimactic moments in Mark’s narrative. It is filled with drama, until the end. Jesus went to the temple, looked around then left, saying and doing nothing! Expectations ran high for something exciting to happen, but nothing did.
So, it’s rather strange that today, we know and celebrate (on Palm Sunday) this story as Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem. We’ve failed to notice there is no triumph in the story; at least Mark doesn’t describe any triumph. Over half the story contains instructions to the two disciples who were sent into Jerusalem from Bethany to ‘borrow’, without so much as an ‘if-you-please,’ an unbroken-in colt. There is little on Jesus’ actual ride into Jerusalem. Once again, Mark is making us rethink our images of Jesus.
An aspect of the story that is intriguing is Jesus’ instruction about what to say when challenged about taking the colt: “The Lord needs it.” And that’s all. It’s amazing to think that Jesus, the Lord, needed a colt. Why a colt and not the more traditional white stallion that victorious warriors would use? Jesus didn’t fulfill anyone’s expectations of Messiah.
We could say Jesus needed the colt to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Which makes sense. We could also say, in keeping with Mark’s picture of Jesus as servant of all, that a donkey’s colt is what a servant, not a ‘conquering hero’ might be expected to ride. Jesus came into Jerusalem, not as the triumphant king of Israel on a white stallion, but as a servant of all on a lowly donkey. He had no intention of making Israel (or any nation) ‘great again.’
The donkey’s colt is not the only sign that this story is misnamed ‘the triumphal entry.’ The anticlimactic ending is another. The crowd that acclaimed him with the word, ‘Hosanna,’ a joyful acclamation of praise and, also a cry for help (see Psalm 118:25), was disappointed when Jesus finally entered Jerusalem and did nothing but look around the temple and leave, returning to Bethany. The so-called ‘triumphal’ entry was anything but triumphant.
One thing that keeps coming up in Mark is how easy it is to create Jesus in an appealing image that invariably turns out to be wrong. Mark challenges us today to let go our pictures of Jesus for a truer picture, one that may be the very opposite of what we always believed. In what ways does this humble servant image of Jesus coincide or conflict with your images of Jesus?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Often, Lord, I find Mark’s Gospel more of a ‘kick in the backside’ than a comfort and inspiration. I need the kicks to help me worship and serve you in your way, not the ways of my comforting images. Help me now, O Lord. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, who rides on lowly things like donkey’s colts.