April 2011 - Vol. 49.

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

By Jeanne Kun

Lo, your king comes to you;
 triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass.

- Zechariah 9:9
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem manifests the coming of the kingdom that the Messiah - King, welcomed into his city by children and the humble of heart, is going to accomplish by the Passover of his Death and Resurrection.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 570
Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and so he was a man with a price on his head: He went into temporary seclusion (John 11:53-57), where he was refreshed by a visit with his friends and anointed beforehand for his burial (12:1-8). Jesus was now ready to enter Jerusalem openly, knowing he would confront its hostile authorities. He was approaching the culmination of his mission.

“Although Jesus had always refused popular attempts to make him king, he chooses the time and prepares the details for his messianic entry into the city of ‘his father David’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 559). His entrance into Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover was deliberate and purposeful, for it was popularly believed that the Messiah would come at Passover time to announce the establishment of his kingdom. Moreover, Jesus made special arrangements to ride into the city rather than walk as pilgrims usually did. A donkey awaited him, “tied at the door out in the open street” for his disciples to fetch (Mark 11:4). Jesus’ choice of mount was symbolic as well as intentional, for his entrance into David’s city on a donkey enacted ancient prophecies about the coming of Israel’s Messiah-King:

Say to the daughter of Zion,
 “Behold, your salvation omes.”
(Isaiah 62:11)

Lo, your king comes to you;
 triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
 on a colt the foal of an ass.
(Zechariah 9:9)

In fulfilling these messianic prophecies, Jesus was publicly proclaiming his identity.

Jesus’ manner of entering the city would have also recalled to the crowds the occasion when Solomon, King David’s son, rode his father’s mule from the site of his anointing at the spring of Gihon into Jerusalem, where he was crowned as David’s successor to the throne (1 Kings 1:32-40). Now Jesus was greeted with a great crowd hailing him as “Son of David” and celebrating his kingship (Matthew 21:9).

Jesus rode a colt “on which no one has ever yet sat” (Luke 19:30). Animals that had not been yoked or broken for common use were ritually clean; since this colt filled the Old Testaments prescriptions (see Numbers 19:2 and 1 Samuel 6:7), it was suitable for sacred or royal use.

As the crowds cheered, they spread their cloaks on the ground in Jesus’ path, perhaps remembering how garments had been spread under Jehu’s feet when he was hailed as king after he had been anointed by Elisha (2 Kings 9:13). Reflecting on this Palm Sunday scene centuries later, St. Andrew of Crete wrote,

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion.... [L]et us spread before his feet, not garments.... but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him.
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9) cried the crowds enthusiastically, lauding Jesus as subjects laud their king and praising him for the great works and miracles they had seen him perform (Luke 19:37). “Hosanna” is the Greek form of the Hebrew entreaty hosa na, meaning “Save (us), we beseech you” (see Psalm 118:25-26; 2 Samuel 14:4). Originally a cry for help, over time it became an invocation of blessing and even an acclamation of praise. In the Sanctus of the eucharistic liturgy, the church has taken up the crowd’s cry: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). So we proclaim the kingship of Christ each time the memorial of Christ’s Passover is celebrated.

Jesus willingly accepted the crowd’s acclaim — but he still rejected the kind of kingship they envisioned. Fired with nationalism, many Jews looked for a warrior-king who would deliver them from Roman domination. But Jesus did not come on a warhorse to establish an independent Jewish state. He came on a mission of peace, astride a young ass. The crowds understood his kingship no better than the disciples did (John 12:16).

While Jesus made it clear that he did not come as a political king or liberator, he still claimed the honor and praise that belonged to him. He refused to quiet his followers when the Pharisees were scandalized by their messianic acclamations. “If these were silent,” Jesus told the infuriated Pharisees, “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:39-40). “So obvious is his messiahship that if men refused to recognize it, nature would proclaim it. In fact, when his friends were cowed on the hill of Calvary the earth trembled and the rocks split [Matthew 27:51]” The Navarre Bible: The Gospel of Saint Luke).

Many biblical scholars believe that Psalm 118 depicts a celebration in the temple of a king’s victory. The crowds welcomed Jesus with a festal procession, palms branches, and the cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13; see also Psalm 118:25-27). So they may have expected that he would enter the temple with the words, “Open to me the gates of righteous” (Psalm 118:19) and declare his kingship at the altar.

In Matthew’s chronology, Jesus did proceed immediately to the temple when he had entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. But there he behaved quite unexpectedly, driving out all who bought and sold sacrificial animals and overturning the tables of the money-changers (Matthew 21:12).

Selling animals and exchanging foreign currency were necessary services provided for Passover pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice and pay the annual temple tax. In fact, there were already four marketplaces selling sacrificial animals that were approved by the Sanhedrin, which were conveniently located in the area near the Mount of Olives. But under the high priest Caiaphas, the court of the Gentiles, the outermost precinct of the temple, had also been turned into a trading place—an abuse that hindered Gentile worshippers from praying there.

By evicting the traders, Jesus was defending God’s intention that all people could worship at the temple, Gentiles as well as Jews. For God had said,

[T]he foreigners who join themselves
  to the LORD,
 to minister to him, to love the
  name of the LORD,
 and to be his servants, . . . 
these I will bring to my holy
 and make them joyful in my
  house of prayer . . . 
for my house shall be called a house
  of prayer
 for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:6-7)
It is likely that, in addition to wanting to preserve the temple as a place of prayer, Jesus was disturbed by the corruption and excessive desire for gain that had come to surround the commercial activities carried out in the temple precinct. Pilgrims were exploited by money-changers, who charged an inflated rate of exchange and by merchants who sold animals for exorbitant prices. Such practices, Jesus declared quoting Jeremiah 7:11, made the temple “into a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13). Perhaps he also intended his actions to be a reminder to the dealers that “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).

The expulsion of the merchants from the temple is a fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s vision of the messianic age: “There shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day” (Zechariah 14:21). It also provided a hint that the sacrificial system, which was at the heart of Judaism, was about to become obsolete. An eternal sacrifice—Jesus’ death and resurrection—would supersede the burnt sacrifices that had been offered constantly in the temple for so long. In fact, when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, the practice of sacrificing animals ended.

After Jesus had expelled the merchants and moneychangers, “the blind and lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). This description of the messianic works Jesus performed is a familiar refrain heard throughout gospels: “[A]ll those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40). In it we also hear echoes of Isaiah 35:4-6, that “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and . . . then shall the lame man leap like a hart,” and Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk. . . . And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:4, 6).

But some did take offense at Jesus: The chief priests and scribes were indignant when they saw the wonders Jesus did and heard the praise the children gave him (Matthew 21:15). Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 to them in reply: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise.” With this reference to infants glorifying the Lord, Jesus was giving another hint—this time of his divinity.

Those who controlled the temple commerce and profited from it—among them perhaps Caiaphas, his father-in-law, Annas, and their families—were angered by the disruption of business when Jesus cleansed the temple. Moreover, they feared Jesus, because the people listened attentively to him. After Jesus cleared out the temple, they sought a way to put him to death (Mark 11:17-18; Luke 19:45-47). Plans unfolded quickly:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. . . . Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:3-4, 14-16)

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

Excerpt from God's Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

What Greeting for the King?

Jubilant Hosannas
(alive with hope and expectation)
resounded upon the fresh spring air
to welcome the king who
entered Jerusalem’s walls that day
astride a donkey.

But soon his bleeding feet
will trip over the same rough paving stones
that had echoed his praises,
and hammer blows will rend the stagnant air
thick with dust and the smell of sweat & blood.
Only cries of mockery
(and mourning)
will greet Israel’s king
when he’s hung high upon a cross
outside the city walls,
all Hosannas dying
with this strange Messiah.

The Scene
Matthew 21:1-17

1And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon. 8Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

12And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.”

14And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; 16and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

 ‘Out of the mouth of babes and   sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?”
17And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

See also Mark 11:1-11, 15-19; Luke 19:29-40, 45-48; John 2:13-22

Pondering the Word

1. How do Jesus’ preparations and entrance into Jerusalem add to your understanding of his messianic role? Why do you think it was important for him to make such an entrance?

2. What adjectives would you use to characterize the attitude and mood of the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem? What might this indicate about the crowd’s expectations of him?

3. What clues does Matthew give about how Jesus responded to the crowds’ acclamation? How do you think Jesus’ disciples might have felt as they watched their master?

4. What statement about himself and his mission was Jesus making by the cleansing of the temple? What does the presence of the blind and lame and children in the temple signify?

5. Why, in your opinion, were the chief priests and scribes so indignant toward Jesus (Matthew 21:15-16)? Is their reaction surprising to you? Why or why not?

6. Why did Jesus compare himself and his own body to the temple (Matthew 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; John 2:20-22)? How has Jesus’ sacrificial death replaced the temple sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:11-14)?

Living the Word

1. The Pharisees were hard-hearted in their view of Jesus, refusing to consider that he might truly be the Messiah. Recall a time when your hard-heartedness caused you to miss God’s presence and action in your life. When did you recognize the need to repent?

2. What is your reaction to public expressions of devotion to the Lord? How free and open are you in expressing your love for Jesus and your commitment to him in front of others?

3. Is the description of Jesus’ actions in the temple surprising to you? Disturbing? Why or why not? Has this scene altered your conception or expectations of Jesus in any way? If so, how?

4. Zeal for his Father’s house consumed Jesus when he cleansed the temple (John 2:17; see also Psalm 69:9). To what do you zealously devote your energy, time, attention, and resources?

5. Why do you think Jesus wanted God’s “house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13; see also Isaiah 56:7) to be a place where people showed respect and reverence? What are some ways you can encourage respect and reverence in your church or worship space?

6. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,” wrote St. Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19). How have you experienced Jesus “cleansing” you to make you a more fitting temple for his Spirit to dwell in?


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