The Beginning of the End of the Beginning

Matthew 21:1-17
English Standard Version (ESV)
21 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
12 And Jesus entered the temple[b] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Palm Sunday. The beginning of Holy Week for Christians. The beginning of the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The prelude to the beginning of new life for that same Jesus and for those who are “in Him.”

In this week-long series of reflections on this very special week, the recounting of which occupies a seemingly inordinate portion of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the gospels, we will be looking at Jesus in his humanity, hoping to learn what it means for us to be in the Second Adam rather than the first. I’m struck by many things when adopting this perspective, things missed when we focus on very legitimate matters that center on his divinity, such as the preparation of the animals to be used and of the disciples who were involved; to an extent, the references to the prophetic announcements also fall under this category.

But what about the human nature of Jesus, from which we gain our understanding of what the new nature does and how it responds in this world? The imitation of Jesus is something commonly and rightly enjoined on believers through the New Testament and recounted from countless pulpits and books on spiritual direction. What does it look like?

The Palm Sunday account shows many possible emphases, and I invite any who read this to offer their insights in the comments. What I see in Jesus is the single-minded knowledge of who he is and what he needs to do. That’s easily said and can apply to his life in general. But here is where the pressure is on in a way that was not the case on previous occasions. Sometimes it is more difficult to maintain focus when things are in one’s favor than when they are not.

Think about it. Do we not all crave for approval? Psychologists tell us we all seek our parents’, and specifically our father’s approval, and when we do not have it, we seek for it elsewhere, usually in unhealthy fashion. If we can get a crowd behind us, cheering us on, we are so mightily tempted to think that we have reached the goal, attained the epitome. Athletes, rock stars, actors, politicians, and every other category of persons who hold recognition award ceremonies are big events on the calendar. And once people get their moment in the sun they usually want to do what is necessary to keep it. The attention becomes addictive, and it is hard to imagine living without it. So we’ll do what is needed to stay in the spotlight.

Jesus has another goal in mind, one which will dispel his own adoring crowd within a day or so. He is focused on the telos, the end toward which everything must be oriented. And such a focus will prove costly. We in our imitation of Jesus must similarly know who we are and where we are going well enough to take momentary applause in stride, understanding the fickleness of the cheers and the all-excelling value of the goal. Not always easy; seldom painless; eternally worth it.