“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mark11:10).
In all four Gospels, the week leading up to Passover begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey followed by the cleansing in the temple. After that, Jesus and the disciples withdraw to Bethany while the chief priests plot his arrest and destruction. The triumphal procession into the city fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, “Fear no more, daughter of Zion: See your king comes seated upon an ass’s colt.” Similarly, the dramatic scene in the temple fulfills Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house consumes me.”
The triumphal entry is a parody on the Roman practice of entering a conquered capital with a full display of military power, often parading prisoners. The cleansing of the temple is likewise symbolic. The whole day is guerilla theater meant to provoke a response, and it does indeed. If we need to posit a reason for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, what he does on Palm Sunday would have been more than enough. The city was filled with Passover pilgrims, and the atmosphere would have been volatile.
Jesus’ actions seem almost suicidal. Theological reasons aside, his historical confrontation with the Roman occupation and the temple establishment seems premeditated, with only two outcomes possible; total conversion or brutal suppression. The Passion story we read this Sunday tells us which outcome occurred. The question is why everything came to a head the way it did. Disturbed and exposed, the power that has always sought to rule the world strikes back to protect its interests. Evil, masquerading as good, is laid bare.
Mark, the earliest Gospel and the most likely to offer a political reading of the death of Jesus, does not do so. Mark's Passion narrative is focused on Jesus fulfilling the Passover. As scripture scholar C. Thomson as shown, Mark divides his narrative of the final Passover into time increments of three hours to parallel Jesus death with the themes of the feast, the commemoration of Exodus. This parallel is for his audience, an early Christian community celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus as their own exodus from sin and death and the pattern of their discipleship -- to imitate Jesus with lives of self-sacrificing love.
This same Paschal Mystery, our share in the sufferings of Christ, is the focus of our Holy Week. Every detail of the story of Jesus' final hours resonates in our lives, from the donkey that carries Jesus into Jerusalem to the centurion who declares at Jesus’ death, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” We will find ourselves in the story of Jesus.
So we begin this most solemn week of the church year, invited to deepen our own understanding of the faith that will define the outcome of our own stories.