Read the other Gospel accounts, & ZECH 9: 9-10, PS 117. These latter are crucial to under- standing what's going on. Crucial, too, is whether we believe Jesus is deliberately & provocatively acting out these prophecies. Is he in command of the situation, or simply carried away as events set in motion by himself or others - not least YHWH - come to a head? In his 'The Stature of Waiting' [DLT, '82]W.H. Vanstone argues a convincing case for Jesus being the 'subject' of the situation until he turns himself into the 'object' by allowing himself to be handed over to his enemies by Judas. Jesus is in total control until he's handed over & control passes into the hands of enemies. I am personally totally persuaded by this view & its understanding of Jesus' Passion.
What appears to be an odd approach to borrowing a donkey is thus integral
to his determination to remain in control (by secrecy, taking his enemies
unaware in this case) until he's convinced it's time to let go & let
God; to allow himself to be handed over. Then he loses control as totally
as he's been totally in the driver's seat up to that point. If you don't
accept this, then naturally you'll approach preaching the Passion, which
is beginning, now, another way. The introduction of a colt into the story
as well as the donkey surely stems from MT's wish to keep the parallelism
of the poetry of ZECH 9:9. The colt, introduced only to make the poetry
work, takes flesh as an actual colt. I don't think it matters, but it's
an interesting example of the way things enter our story. What 'happenings'
have entered our own story this way...an idea that's floated, becomes embroidered,
takes another shape in a re-telling, goes on to become personal or family
if not urban myth, and bingo, we're stuck with it. Who cares about fact
if fiction's better?!
Afterthought: Could /can we find Jesus in the crowd when he's not riding on the back of a donkey?
In a peasant society, a donkey's valuable property. Maybe the difference between its owners & their family surviving or not. Would you lend Jesus your donkey? What about your prized car? It's a big ask Jesus makes of the owner(s), with whom, according to the position I take, he's previously made a secret arrangement which he now activates. JN's positioning of the story after the raising of Lazarus points to that event as the likely trigger for Jesus deciding to challenge the powers that be, civil & religious in whose interests it is not just to physically execute troublesome people, but also to bind living people in various kinds of grave cloths & 'bury' them as a method of crowd control. From what do we need to be unbound, unhobbled, told to "Come out!"? It's not just four-legged donkeys that need to be untethered! MT wants us to see the people who follow as being able to recognize a king when they see one. In our case, liturgy puts words of recognition into our mouths: Blessed is he......, but like those of old, what are doing about what we say? About him whom we recognize in so saying? How far are we prepared to travel on with him? Into the city & out the other side to the green (?) hill? It's a big ask.
The donkey's traditionally the symbol of lowliness, humility, servanthood. But we've also turned it & Jesus with it into a peace symbol (remember Palm Sunday peace Marches?) which it's not. Emphatically not! Just a different kind of war-horse! Making war of a different kind. In what's un- folding before our eyes & what it unleashes, Jesus comes to bring not peace but a sword. A sword to pierce us all through & through. As the crooks who run the Temple & those who work for them, trading on the little people are soon to feel. That's why we mustn't leave out vv.12-13, the punch line of the whole story!
It's easier to be part of the crowd, running ahead of, or chasing behind the Messiah, than to stay part of the action when the chips are down. When those in the city begin to ask "Who is this?" from their vantage points. They've seen troublemakers riding in from the countryside before. In 2:3 MT tells us when Herod's confronted with news that a new king of the Jews has been born, 'all the city was troubled'. Now, as that new king eventually enters his 'capital', the city does well to tremble again. MT means us to see connections. Already the crowd that's running with Jesus is thinning out. Already, lookouts are already on their way to Pilate, & Caiaphas & Co. Do we want to get caught up in this kind of thing? And its inevitable consequences? You & I can still pull out, even now. At this late stage.
The whole episode reeks not just of ZECH 9, but especially of PS 118. Palm Sunday & its events & the way they spill over still further are all about demonstrating God's Rule of justice & righteous- ness & that how God rules is always totally consistent with who God is. Words from a modern hymn by John Bell & Graham Maule [Wild Goose Songs 1, Wild Goose Publications] sum up the Jesus who declares his hand on Palm Sunday pretty well:
Praise the Son who feeds the hungry,
frees the captive, finds the lost,
heals the sick, upsets religion,
fearless both of fate and cost..
That Palm Sunday with its procession when we can all pretend we were there (even play at being donkeys!) has become one of the church's more popular religious observances might lead us to question if we're more in love with a Jesus who's King of Peace, King of the Kids, King Who Doesn't Rock Boats, rather than the One who pierces us adults with the sharp sword of love.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest!