Sunday, April 9, 2017

Illuminated Manuscript - Passover & Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate the Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem for Passover, where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him & laying down palm leaves before him. His appearance marks the beginning of Holy Week. But Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem is only part of the Easter Week story. 

Passover. Preparation for the Seder, from the Golden Haggadah. Additional 27210 f. 15

The Galileans, the pilgrim crowd, acclaimed Jesus, & the local Judeans did not. By Palm Sunday, many of the Jews were filled with hate & anger for Jesus. They wanted to see him stoned, calling Him a blasphemer, after offering proof of His Divinity during a winter visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication. After this, Jesus went to Perea, where he was summoned to Bethany. There he raised Lazarus from the dead, a miracle which won Him renown among certain Pharisees; that they decided finally to end His life.

Jesus took refuge at Ephrem - returning 6 days before Passover to Bethany, & triumphantly entered Jerusalem. That evening, He left Jerusalem & returned Monday. He spent time with Gentiles in the Temple, & on Wednesday He left for the Mount of Olives. Here He told the apostles of the events of the next several days, including His impending death. He returned to Jerusalem on Thursday, to share the Last Supper with His apostles. He was subsequently arrested & tried. He was crucified at Calvary on Friday, outside the gates of Jerusalem. He was buried the same day, & arose three days later, on Easter Sunday.

Passover was only 4 days away when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.  He entered the city on the 10th day of the month. We can see the significance of this in Exodus 12:3, 5-6, which says, Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house.. . ..Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

As Jesus was riding in and the people were crying “Hosanna in the highest,” symbolically selecting the paschal lamb for sacrifice.

Comparing Biblical narratives of Palm Sunday by Ian Paul on April 11, 2014 in Biblical Studies, Life & Ministry

It is always a relief when we celebrate Palm Sunday from Matthew or Mark’s account. Luke in his account talks only the garments, & does not mention palm branches...In fact it is only John, the supposed ‘spiritual’ gospel, who specifies the palms. But if you are reading or preaching from Matthew’s account, what stands out?

Matthew’s account of the events leading to the entry into Jerusalem is slightly briefer than Mark’s or Luke’s, with the exception of the addition of the fulfilment of prophecy in Matt 21.4. Matthew, & to a lesser extent Luke, omit some of the ‘eye-witness’ details found in Mark’s account—the exact question the disciples will be asked (Mark 11.3O), the asking of it (Mark 11.5), the fact that the branches were ‘leafy’ (Mark 11.8; Mark uses the word stibas suggesting leafy palms, rather than Matthew’s more general klados). Matthew’s account is more ‘stream-lined’ in order to make the points that he thinks are significant.

A striking feature is the emphasis on the impact that Jesus has. The ‘large crowd’ that has followed Jesus from Jericho in Matt 20.29 has become a ‘huge crowd’ in Matt 21.8. It is worth noting that, though many versions title this episode ‘The Triumphal Entry’ or some such, the acclaim happens before Jesus enters the city. When He does finally come into Jerusalem, Matthew alone notes that ‘the whole city was stirred’ in verse 10. Here he highlights the divide between the Galileans, the pilgrim crowd, who acclaim Jesus, & the local Judeans who do not...

It is not the same crowd that praised him this week who call for his crucifixion the next, but different groups responding to Jesus differently (something which John’s gospel draws out more explicitly). And the Galilean crowd emphasise that this king-like person is not local, but from Nazareth; whereas Judea was ruled directly by Rome through a prefect, Galilee was a separate region ruled by Herod as tetrarch. So the political threat would have been all the more obvious.

Up to this point according to Biblcal accounts, Jesus has walked everywhere with his disciples on foot—and it appears that the expectation was that Passover pilgrims should arrive at the city on foot. So Jesus’ riding on a donkey would have been very conspicuous amongst the crowds; He could have chosen to remain incognito by walking if He had chosen. The use of a donkey was not a sign of poverty as such; it was the most common animal at the time for a range of work roles. Its primary significance is found in the fulfilment of the conflated prophecies in Zech 9.9–10 with the opening phrase from Isaiah 62.11. The Zechariah text in turn alludes to David’s entry into the city after the defeat of Absalom in 2 Sam 19. The true king arrives, not as conquering hero but proclaiming peace, not presuming to impose his will, but hoping to be welcomed willingly. In this sense Jesus is demonstrating by his own example the teaching He has been giving in Matt 20.25–28. Though He has forbidden proclamation of his identity in Matt 16.20, his actions speak louder than their words.

There is no particular need to think of the arrangements as miraculous; we know from John 11 & 12 that He has contacts in this area. The mention of an ass & a colt here (compared with only one animal in the other accounts) looks like Matthew’s characteristic doubling—in many of Jesus’ miracles, he deals with two people in Matthew where Mark & Luke only mentions one...Matthew would know how to read Hebrew parallelism in Zech 9, so it is rather odd to suggest he has misunderstood the passage. But, like others of his day, he shows an interest in the fulfilment of the passage in its form, not just its content, & mentioning both animals helps to emphasize this.

Fulfilment of Scripture is a repeated theme for Matthew, & here the citation takes the place of the explicit acclamation of Jesus as king in the other gospel accounts. The fact that he is ‘a prophet’ (Matt 21.9) has already been highlighted by Matthew’s placing him on a mountain in Matt 5.1 (rather than a ‘level place’ in Luke 6.17)...

So Jesus is presented as fulfilling the purposes of God. Having silenced those who proclaimed him earlier, He now makes no secret of who He is. Although his claims had inevitable political implications, Matthew focuses on his role as the Son of David & the prophet who was to come. His arrival draws a huge following—but it also divides people in their loyalty.