SUNDAY APRIL 5TH, 2009 PASSION (PALM) SUNDAY – Biblical Commentary by F. Alberto Maggi OSM Mk 11,1-10 When they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone should say to you, 'Why are you doing this?' reply, 'The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.'" So they went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" They answered them just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it. So they brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. And he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!" Every time we read Gospels we must always bear in mind that Gospels are not chronicle, but theology. It’s not something about history, but about faith. This is even more true in a passage like this, the one regarding the entering of Jesus into Jerusalem, the one we chose today for the Palm Sunday. The evangelist writes “When they drew near to Jerusalem”; Jesus has already announced for the third time – and number three represents what is final – that death is waiting for him in Jerusalem. This is something distinctive of Mark who never talks about the death of Jesus without alluding to resurrection. That’s why immediately after Jerusalem he names the Mount of Olives that is, specifically in this Gospel, a symbolic image of the victory of Christ over death, of the definitive condition of an individual who already passed through death. And Jesus sends his disciples into the village. “He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.” Every time we find the expression ‘village’, it represent a negative situation, one of incomprehension and hostility toward Jesus and his message because if a town is a place where fashions and habits go and come very fast, a village is the place of tradition, where all traditions are deep-rooted and are difficult to be eradicated and changes are seen with suspicion and worry. The term ‘village’ indicates therefore that this passage will be under the sign of incomprehension – as we will read in a while. Jesus send his disciples into the village telling them they would have find there a “colt tethered on which no one has ever sat”. Once more I confirm that these are not chronicle indications, but theology, they’ve nothing to do with history, but it’s a matter of faith. Here Jesus is referring to the Zechariah, the Prophet, the only one who introduced a Messiah of peace, not of violence. He didn’t talk about a ruling Messiah, the one who wouldn’t have ridden the mule which represented a royal mount, or a war horse, but would have made all chariots and horses disappear from Jerusalem. A Messiah who gets rid of horses, which represent power, shows up on a donkey colt, which was the mount of common people. Jesus therefore unties it – here comes the fact that this colt was tied – he unties the prophecy which had been censored by religious tradition that had always been announcing a victorious and triumphant Messiah. Well, the reaction of people before the choice of Jesus is double. The evangelist writes “so they brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. And he sat on it”. In ancient symbology cloak represents the individual, the person, so the disciples welcome and accept this non-violent Messiah, one who carries out the prophecy of Zechariah and, in order to express their adherence, they put their cloaks, that is their existences, where? Over the colt. They are ready to follow the Messiah of peace. Then the evangelist writes that Jesus not ‘got on it’, but ‘sat on it’, that is he settled on it. This is exactly his idea of a Messiah. He doesn’t think of a triumphant Messiah, as we will see, the one of the tradition of the Son of David – the Messiah is the Son of David, the one, that just like this king, through violence would have achieved the Kingdom of Israel – but he announces a Messiah who would have begun the Kingdom of God by giving his life as a gift. If disciples have welcomed this image of a peaceful Messiah, not all of the crowd does. The evangelist writes that “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields”. When an official enthronement occurred people used to put their cloaks on the road as a sign of submission to the king. People don’t accept to be freed, they want to remain submissive and under domination, maybe aspiring to have a greater king or a better king, but don’t welcome the message of liberation carried by Jesus. And Jesus finds himself as a hostage. The evangelist goes on “Those preceding him as well as those following…”, Jesus is in the middle, he’s not the one who shows the way, but it’s the crowd that takes him hostage. Whether those ho precede him or those who follow “… kept crying out…” Why does the evangelist use the verb ‘to cry out’ even by citing a Psalm (118) "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”? He could have used the verb ‘to acclaim’. The crowd, on the contrary, cries out, just like the unclean animals who reject the action of the Lord, and just like the blind man from Jericho who sees Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David (“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”). And those who cry “Hosanna to the Son of David” will realize they were wrong by calling Jesus the Son of David, as he is the Son of the Living God – in the ancient culture ‘son’ meant the one who resembles to his Father. He doesn’t take life away, but gives his. When they will realize they’d mistaken, those same people crying out “Hosanna”, will shout “Crucify him!” because – as the evangelist is highlighting – they kept crying out “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!”. They didn’t understand that Jesus has come to begin the Kingdom of God, they are expecting him to rise the Kingdom of David, the Kingdom of Israel, but Jesus only wants to start a universal Kingdom where each individual might feel welcome and loved, and where no submission or domination dwell, but just love and service.