Liturgy of the Palms
Alternate Reading B
March 28, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 12:12-16, The Message or John 12:12-16, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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As we read this passage we should be aware that in the first verses of Chapter 12 we are told that the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know so that they might arrest and execute him, and that they were planning to put Lazarus to death as well. (John 11:57 and 12:10)
So Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is a deliberately provocative act - a prophetic act.
Who knows where Jesus is? Everyone!
Where is Jesus? Coming into Jerusalem. Riding on a young donkey!
Note that here Jesus is lauded as "King of Israel," whereas he is crucified as, "King of the Jews."
There is a crucial social and political difference between these two titles.
At the time of Jesus, the people we call "Jews" referred to themselves as "the people of Israel," or "the house of Israel."
It was the Roman occupiers - like Pontius Pilate - who dealt with the elite in the capital city of Jerusalem, located in the region of Judea, who ignored regional differences and referred to the whole population as "Judeans." ("Judeans" migrated into English shortened into the first syllable - "Jew.")
Tragically, this ignorance is repeated in the Christian understanding of the Greek text.
Why is this a tragedy? Because it hides from our understanding the scorn that Judeans had for Galileans. Where do the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees come from? Judea. Where does Jesus come from? Galilee.
When Pontius Pilate presents Jesus, the peasant Galilean, as the King of the Judeans - that is outrageous! Crucify him! (See my note, It's "Judeans," Not "Jews.")
Note also that only John specifically mentions that the branches spread on the road were palms. At the time of Jesus the palm had become a symbol of Israeli identity and of power over Israel.
Malina and Rohrbaugh note (Page 209, see footnote below.):
Jesus responds to the acclamation by taking a young ass and sitting on it. The ass was a peaceful mode of transportation, unlike the horse which was a war animal.
Sitting on the young ass would thus signal to the crowds that Jesus would lead no riot; force was not in his repertory for the social change he had in mind.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan also add in their book, "The Last Week," that while the Bible does not mention it, Pontius Pilate was likely also riding into Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus.
But through the main gate. Riding on a horse. And accompanied by a legion of battle hardened Roman soldiers.
Thus we can re-phrase Malina and Rohrbaugh's comment above as:
Sitting on the war horse would thus signal to the crowds that Pilate would tolerate no riot; force was his repertory for the social order he had in mind.
Riding into Jerusalem that day was a truly courageous act by Jesus - a Galilean peasant riding a donkey as a sign of non-violent resistance toward a confrontation that could only end with his brutal torture and execution.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 209-210; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
John 12:12-16 (NRSV)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the
name of the Lord— the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 "Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey's colt!"
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 12:12-16 (The Message)
12 The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. 13 They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered:
Blessed is he who comes in God's name!
Yes! The King of Israel!
14 Jesus got a young donkey and rode it, just as the Scripture has it:
15 No fear, Daughter Zion:
See how your king comes,
riding a donkey's colt.
16 The disciples didn't notice the fulfillment of many Scriptures at the time, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that what was written about him matched what was done to him.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.