The ride to Jerusalem on a donkey was a deliberate fulfilment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, a passage which the Jewish teachers interpreted as referring to the Messiah.
“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
The prophecy is of Jerusalem’s king coming to the city in peace; if the king came as a conqueror he would have ridden a war horse. When the carpenter’s son from Nazareth rode a donkey into town, no-one but the Romans would mistake the symbolism: he was claiming to be the King, the Messiah. His disciples, and many of the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover, realised this and rejoiced.
The people anticipated that the Messiah would lead the nation to Freedom. They were under the yoke of the Romans, and bitterly resented it. The disciples believed Jesus had the power to do anything: he, whom wind and waves (and donkeys) obeyed, could surely deal with a Roman army. Jesus’ teaching about love also impressed them – surely one who taught such things would bring in a reign of peace and prosperity.
With hindsight, we can see the mistakes the disciples were making. Jesus was not the Messiah they hoped for. His way was the way of the cross, and during this Holy Week, we would do well to think a little more about what that may mean for us.
Jesus’ death on the cross was hugely significant and important in many ways. On the human level, his death was the worst method of execution the Romans could invent. Jesus’ crucifixion was a gross travesty of justice – he was an innocent victim. Dig a little deeper, and we see more than that – he was not merely an innocent human victim, he was the long awaited Messiah, the one who had come to save the world. Dig deeper still, and we see the man on the cross was also the divine Son of God. He had not tried to become equal with God – he did not need to, for he was in very nature God, as the first reading makes clear. Yet he deliberately allowed himself to undergo such wicked injustice, torture and death. In Jesus it was God who suffered, oh so much!
Why did God allow such evil to happen to such a man? How could God allow such evil to happen to himself? The answer that screams at us from the Bible is that there was no other way for God to reconcile the world to himself – and unless the world is reconciled to God, there is no possibility of salvation from ultimate disaster. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane for another way to be found. But there was no other way, so he embraced the way of the cross.
The result, however, is not world-wide peace. That is impossible while evil exists, and evil is so embedded in this world that it cannot be eradicated without destroying the world. But the cross opens the door for individual peace, and for a relationship with God that will bring us, too, through pain and suffering, through death and resurrection, to full and eternal life. There is no other way.
1) What do you hope for from God?
2) In what ways does the crucifixion of Jesus affect you in daily life?