And down the stretch he comes...on a donkey: Lent Bible Study 3.14.16


Throughout the season of Lent, we are going to be taking a look at the gospel liturgical readings, what they say, how they apply to our lives, and what they have to do with Lent.


This week our liturgical reading was Luke 19:28-40 and it is a story we have all heard before about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. What we may not realize is how much symbolism and how many Old Testament scripture references there are. 

This passage follows the pattern of Greco-Roman entrance processions which capture the moment in which a conquering emperor enters and acquires a new city. We looked at two different entrance procession accounts by Josephus, an ancient historian, and we saw four common elements between those two accounts and our scripture passage here:

  1. The conqueror/Jesus is escorted into the city by its citizens
  2. The procession is accompanied by hymns of praise
  3. The procession includes symbolic acts depicting the authority of the conqueror (laying the coats out on the road before him)
  4. The acquisition of the city is completed by a trip to the Temple.

In addition to this Greco-Roman imagery of a conquering king entering a city, there is also a lot of symbolism that comes from the Old Testament. 

Immediately before entering into the city Jesus comes from the Mount of Olives and he comes riding a young donkey. Both of these details are found in the book of Zechariah. 

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east...Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him - Zechariah 14:4-5
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey...He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. - Zechariah 9:9-10

While we would expect a "conquering king" to ride a war horse into the city, instead we are met with this imagery from the Old Testament of a grown man riding a young donkey. It's a very humbling image, have you ever seen a donkey? They aren't very big, let alone a young donkey. Jesus' feet may have barely been off the ground. It's an image that sticks in your mind and it should have caused the crowd, or at least the Pharisees to think back to these Zechariah passages. Instead, they respond by telling him to keep the crowds quiet, to tell people to stop. Jesus responds by telling him if the crowd was silent even the stones would cry out. R. Alan Culpepper writes an interesting commentary on this when he says:

Jesus' response also echos John the Baptist's warning that "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Luke 3:8) and prepares the reader for the full import of Jesus' announcement that "They will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God" (Luke 19:44). This ominous warning isa ll the more devastating because this is the last reference to the Pharisees in Luke. They have consistently opposed Jesus. Now they are silenced and pass from the scene. If the people did not cry out in praise, God could raise up another people to fulfill God's purposes, even from the stones.

Even in this triumphal entry into Jerusalem, there is a recognition that the people don't understand it, that they will forsake Jesus, he will be crucified, and people will fail to recognize who he is.

So what?

So as we prepare to enter into Holy Week we must reflect on our own relationship with God and ask ourselves, "Do we recognize where Jesus is working and doing things in our own lives, or do we respond like the Pharisees and try to stop it?"

Next Week: Luke 22:14-23:56