Sunday, 29 March 2015

Virtually Unannounced and Practically Unnoticed: On Jesus’s Less-than Triumphal Entry

I’ve spotted a few interesting things in Mark’s version of the triumphal entry (Mk. 11:1-11).

First, the opening verses concerning the colt don’t seem to be all that important – at least, not for Mark. While it’s most probably lurking in the background, and quite possibly at the forefront of Jesus’s mind, there’s no explicit reference to Zechariah 9:9, as in Matthew and John. And the conversation between Jesus and the two disciples mentioned reflects little more to me than advance planning on Jesus’s part. I don’t see the need to interpret these verses (11:1-6) as an instance of Jesus demonstrating omniscience or foreknowledge.

In fact, I’d imagine that at this time, when the citizens of Jerusalem were bracing themselves for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in time for Passover, there were quite a few arrangements of this sort. So I can imagine that Jesus wasn’t the only person who had perhaps made plans to hire an animal for transportation purposes. Granted, the majority of pilgrims would have travelled on foot, but it’s not impossible that those rich enough to hire mules or donkeys would have done so. (It’s also quite likely that Jesus had arranged to hire a colt in order to fulfil the Zechariah prophecy, though, as I say, Mark doesn’t give any indication of this.)

The crowd’s welcome in Mark’s Gospel is somewhat muted, too. Mark describes several people placing their clothes on the road and others spreading branches (and not necessarily palm branches, which are mentioned only by John). But these actions could be little more than some kind of organised welcome that Jerusalem was geared up for year after year. The observation that ‘others spread branches cut from the fields’ (11:8b) leads me to entertain the possibility that these branches had been prepared in advance specifically for greeting the pilgrims. Also, the fact that the Hallel psalms (Pss. 113–18) formed the soundtrack for the pilgrims’ entries into Jerusalem means that hearing shouts of ‘Hosanna!’ (from Psalm 118:25) wouldn’t have been unusual, either. It’s quite possible, then, that few in the crowds were welcoming Jesus knowingly and specifically. And of those who were, I dare say it’s only the disciples who were aware of what was truly going on (as Luke (19:37-39) implies but John (12:16) denies).

If I’m right to read Mark 11:1-11 in this way, then I have to say that, for Mark, Jesus’s arrival at Jerusalem is something of a less-than triumphal entry. Jesus enters Jerusalem virtually unannounced and practically unnoticed.

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