Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday - A Petrine Perspective

I want to try and do something different this week: I'll be taking sections from my book "Simon, Who is Called Peter" and posting them throughout the week on the day that (roughly) corresponds to them. First, of course, we have the Triumphal Entry.

We were on our way to Jerusalem, and we walked in silence, as we had been doing more and more often lately.[1] We had stopped near Bethphage, where Jesus had sent Matthew and my brother Andrew[2] into town to get a donkey for Jesus to ride on. A donkey! Jesus sat on the ground, a little apart from the rest of us, and his head was bowed. He had been so tired lately. He had not asked us to be quiet, but we were anyway—when we talked, it was in whispers, and after a while even those had stopped. I looked up at the sky. Andrew and Matthew should be back soon. In fact—
I elbowed John lightly, and when he looked at me, I nodded towards Bethphage. There, leaving the town, were Andrew and Matthew, leading two donkeys, one older and one younger, a colt. I stood up and walked over to Jesus, making more noise than I needed to. Luckily, he looked up when I drew near, and instead of speaking I pointed to the two with the donkeys. He looked, and nodded, and when he began to rise I offered him my hand—he took it with a quiet word of thanks. I had never seen him so tired, not even when we had been up all night. I wanted to say something, to tell him I understood—but I did not. We were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, but we all knew that something more was going to happen, and it was that something more that was weighing on Jesus. Why else would Jesus want a donkey to ride on? Then again, if he was going to ride on something, why did he pick a donkey? I did not know any of this. So I stood there next to him, in silence, waiting for the others to arrive with the colt.
They got there soon enough, and I realized—the donkey did not have a saddle. Jesus was at the donkey’s side, about to get on, and I said, “Lord, wait.” He stopped and looked at me, and instead of saying anything else I began pulling my robe over my head. I moved quickly, and when the robe cleared my head I saw John and James doing the same thing, while the others looked on, puzzled at first but then realizing what was happening. I draped the robe over the donkey, folding it a few times, and John and James did the same. I felt the resulting pad with my hand—it was quite thick, so we helped Jesus mount the donkey, and then we continued on towards Jerusalem.
As we drew nearer to Jerusalem, going up the Mount of Olives, we heard shouting, lots of people shouting. Soon we saw the people, coming over the hill from Jerusalem—they must have heard that Jesus was coming, because we heard his name among the shouts. As they came, those disciples who still had their robes took them off—Andrew was the first, quickly, awkwardly pulling his robe over his head and laying it down in the dust before Jesus and the colt. The others followed, and then many in the crowd did the same, and those who did not have robes cut palm branches. I saw one man, having put his robe on the ground, pick it up again after Jesus had passed over it, but he did not put it back on. Instead he folded it, treating it with the utmost care and making sure it did not fall. Others were doing the same—their cloaks were now something holy to them. From that point on, from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, I do not think the donkey’s feet touched bare dirt again.
More and more people were streaming from the city the entire time, and they were still shouting—although now it was more of a chant. I recognized many of them: some had followed Jesus themselves, although not everywhere he went, and others had seen many of Jesus’ powerful works. They were chanting various things, in different parts of the crowd, but one phrase that came again and again was, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” After the first couple of times we heard it, we twelve joined in as well. We were happier than we had been in some time. I looked to Jesus—he had said the he was coming here to die! Well, here he was, in Jerusalem, and it seemed as though the whole city had emptied to welcome him. So I looked at him, expecting the frown, the tiredness, to be gone, but it was, if anything, worse than ever. Why?
A stir in the crowd, a parting, signaled the arrival of the Pharisees. I frowned. They must have known that Jesus was the cause of the crowd, and they were coming to make more trouble. Although... I laughed. They had to push their way through the crowd. Everyone was so focused on Jesus that they paid no attention to the Pharisees, and their faces, angry and worried, caused me to smile. What could they do to Jesus now that the whole city was behind him?[3]
They continued pushing, making slow but steady headway through the crowd, until they reached Jesus. They finally broke through the crowd and, ignoring us, walked up to Jesus and stood in front of him, stopping the donkey. They drew themselves up, gathering their robes about them, and the one in the lead said in a loud voice, “Rabbi, rebuke your disciples!"[4] I chuckled again. It would have been impressive, even frightening, in most circumstances: here, when his robes were disheveled and dirty from the press of the crowd, when his voice could barely be heard over the constant chanting and praising, it was almost pitiful. 
I looked to Jesus, and saw, to my surprise, a flash of anger as he drew himself up on the donkey and said, in an even louder voice, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” The Pharisees were stunned—they, too, were angry, but then they must have realized their position. They were alone among hundreds, maybe thousands, of people all praising Jesus. They withdrew, once again becoming lost in the crowd, and Jesus fixed his eyes on the top of the mount, to which we were now quite near. I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking it too. Over that hill was Jerusalem. It was always something incredible to come over the hill and see it there, remember its history and see its beauty.
We drew closer, closer, and then we were over—there it was. Jerusalem, the Holy City, and within it the Temple, its golden roof shining in the sun, with Zion hill behind it.[5] I looked back to Jesus, to see his reaction as he crested the hill, and—it was strange. His face crumpled and tears ran down his face when he saw Jerusalem. I hurried back, to ask him what was wrong, but he did not see me. He was still looking at Jerusalem, weeping, and speaking half-to-himself, the words almost lost in the tears. “If only you had known, on this day, the things of peace... But now they are hidden from your eyes!” He stopped, apparently unable to continue for a moment, but then he began again. “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will besiege you, hem you in on every side... and they will tear you to the ground, you and your children as well. And they will not leave one stone upon another, all because you did not know the time of your visitation...” He stopped, still looking at the city, and I walked alongside him. I looked around—most of the others had not noticed. John and James had, as had Andrew, and they looked at me questioningly, but I could only shrug. Was he talking about Jerusalem? What did he mean, the things of peace? Who would besiege us? Surely no one could, not with Jesus there. We walked on, still surrounded by the ever-growing crowd, still hearing the ever-present chanting and cheering, but the spirit was gone from we few who had seen Jesus weeping.

[1]This event taken from Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-36. It represents my understanding of the chronology of the triumphal entry, as synthesized from the four gospel accounts
[2]The two disciples sent for the donkey remain anonymous in all accounts. I give them names merely for the sake of the narrative.
[3]The crowd is so large that it causes the Pharisees to say to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19). This event, causing despair among the Pharisees, would be sure to cause jubilation and excitement among the disciples. “Surely,” they must be thinking, “all that the Pharisees have planned has come to naught. The whole world has come after Christ!”
[4]The words of the crowd (Luke 19:38, John 12:13, Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9) imply that Jesus is coming into the city not by his own authority as an earthly rabbi, but by YAHWEH’s direct authority and power (Lenski, Luke 965). This would, of course, have been deemed blasphemous by the Pharisees, hence their command to Jesus to rebuke his disciples, meaning to stop them from saying these things.
[5]This description of Jerusalem taken from Lenski (Matthew), 963. 

I'll be posting more over the week. If you want to read the whole thing, just let me know and I'd be happy to email it to you. Let me know what you think.
Update: Check out the rest of Day 1 here.

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

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