Approach to the City

This coming Sunday is the sixth Sunday in the Lenten season called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Luke portrays Jesus’ entry into the holy city in four scenes (vv. 28–48), the first two concerned with the acquisition of a colt for the short trip from the Mount of Olives to the city and the entry itself (vv. 28–40). These two serve a common theme—namely, Jesus’ royal personage. As will become evident, the whole process from obtaining a colt to the crowds’ proclaiming Jesus king is wrapped in the eschatological expectation and scriptural allusion (esp. Psalm 118 and Zech 9:9).

As mentioned yesterday, this is a royal person entering a city – not to claim kingship, but as the follow-on to an already achieved victory. This is important because it suggests that Jesus is not about to assert his royal status. This accords well with his acclamation as king even before his birth (1:32–35), and with an interpretation of the preceding chapters of the Lukan narrative as developing the nature of Jesus’ kingship and, therefore, of his kingdom. What Luke is about to narrate, then, assumes the portrait of Jesus already established, with its salvific emphasis on good news to those living on the margins of society (4:18–19).

28 After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. 29 As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. 30 He said, “Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’” 32 So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying this colt?” 34 They answered, “The Master has need of it.”

Jesus’ approach to the city is emphasized by the repeated use of the verb for “to draw near” (engizō) in this part of the narrative (19:11, 29, 37, 41). The carefully orchestrated securing of the donkey is probably meant to convey Jesus’ foreknowledge of these events. Rationalizing explanations suggesting that Jesus had previously arranged for the use of the donkey might explain Jesus’ ability to tell the disciples where the donkey would be tied, but hardly do justice to the instruction he gives the disciples regarding what they are to say when they are challenged by its owners. Again, the detail and the repetition of the declaration “The Master has need of it” suggest that these words convey a christological affirmation. The events are unfolding according to God’s foreordained redemptive purposes—as will all that follows.

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