The entrance procession

This coming Sunday is the sixth Sunday in the Lenten season called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Each year we read a different gospel at the beginning of this Mass as we follow the Lectionary cycle. Mark, Matthew and Luke all have accounts – John too – and all are similar, none are identical. The differences are sometimes just that, differences, but sometimes there is a point the sacred author is making that is brought out in the differences. In the Lukan account we read:

35 So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. 36 As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; 37 and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. 38 They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:35-40)

In Matthew 21:4, the sacred author makes specific reference to OT scripture: “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled.” Matthew is pointing to Zechariah 9:9–10

9 Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. 10 He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

Most scholars agree that this is also the imagery that Luke is echoing even as Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem conforms to the motif of the royal processions of the ancient near east as kings and conquerors entered the capital cities. Consider the basic elements of the Lukan account:

  1. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is punctuated by people who spread their cloaks on the road (Luke 19:36) and by “the whole multitude of his disciples” (v.37).
  2. The procession is accompanied by hymns of praise; in this case a verse from the Hallel psalms (Ps 118:26).
  3. Various elements of the procession depict the authority of Jesus; Jesus’ divine knowledge is illustrated by his commanding the disciples to bring the colt, the spreading of cloaks on the road, praise of God for Jesus’ “mighty deeds,” and praise of Jesus as the bringer of peace and glory in heaven.
  4. Jesus’ reign over the city is seen by his later prophetic act of weeping over the city, his oracle of destruction, his entry into the Temple as God’s emissary, and the act of driving out the merchants from the Temple area.

36 As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; 37 and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen.

As Stoffregen notes, Luke’s account is one that challenges our memory with his own telling of the events. “It is quite ironic to read this as the processional gospel on ‘Palm’ Sunday. There are no ‘branches of palms’ mentioned in Luke’s account as in John (12:13). There are no ‘leaves from the field’ as in Mark (11:8). There are no ‘branches from the trees’ as in Matthew (21:8). There are no leaves or branches of any type mentioned in Luke. (Note that only John talks about ‘palms’!)”

Stoffregen goes on to note other unique Lucan contributions: “When Jesus enters Jerusalem only Luke tells us:

  1. …the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen (Luke 19:37).
  2. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (vv. 39-40).

In Luke, the entrance of Jesus causes a division among the crowd which is not found in the other gospels. Related to this emphasis, the disciples in Luke do not shout ‘hosanna’ – an Aramaic phrase meaning, ‘Save us, I pray.’ What is anticipated at the coming of the king is ‘peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’ Peace (eirene) is emphasized in Luke (14 occurrences in Luke, 6 in John, 4 in Matthew, and 1 in Mark; 7 in Acts). This theme begins at the end of Zechariah’s song: ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (1:79). It continues with the angel’s song: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ (2:14). It shows up in Simeon’s song: ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.’ (2:29) An emphasis for Luke is that salvation consists partly in living at peace with God and with each other — Jews and Gentiles, male and female, rich and poor, slaves and free.”

38 They proclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”  

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