Monday, March 19, 2018
Do you ever add the last little touch to an event and look back and think that extra something really brought everything together? Maybe you are finished with your Christmas shopping but, at the last minute, see one more little gift that you pick up for your special someone, and that little thing turns out to be the most beloved gift. Maybe you have built yourself a most splendid ice cream Sunday and then see that one topping you missed when you went through the line, and you know that it could not possibly be complete without it. I get that feeling when Jesus heads into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.
In Mark 11, the gospel writer tells us, "When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, 'Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find there tied a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.'" I love the colt. I am drawn to its symbolism. The colt becomes an important reflection of Zechariah's prophecy: "See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." But, as Mark describes it, feels almost like an after-thought. "Hey, guys!" Jesus says. "You know what would make this trip really special? What we need is a colt! Anyone have a colt--a young donkey? No? Well, head up into that village and you'll find one. Bring it back, and we can really make a entrance no one will ever forget!"
It's more than a haphazard fulfillment of prophecy, of course. A colt represents the opposite of a horse. Generals ride into town on horseback. Peasants ride on donkeys. No one ever charged into battle on a donkey. Don Quixote rode a horse, but Rocinate was an old work horse that, like its rider, was ill-equipped for fighting. Jesus (or the gospel writers who recall this story) makes a point by choosing to ride into town on a colt.
Holy Week will be the scene of Jesus' most dramatic challenge to the religious and political powers of his day. He rides into town ready to do battle with them, but his battle will not be a physical one. He will confront them with holy resistance. He will battle their theology and their wit. He will challenge their morality and conviction. But neither he nor his followers will lift up a sword against their enemies (the notable exception being the individual who cut off the servant's ear in the garden and whose gesture goes no further). Jesus wanted to be sure that the crowds who saw him ride into the holy city knew what kind of revolt this would be. So he sent his disciples ahead of him to find a colt.
What unfolds from Palm Sunday to Easter Day is not an accident. The conflict Jesus brings to Jerusalem was bound to end in death, but Jesus is clear from the beginning that he would not be the one promoting violence. If we're paying attention, the colt lets us know what we should expect and how we should interpret what follows. It may have been a last-minute addition, but it is a powerful one.