Meg Peery McLaughlin
April 5, 2020
Matthew 21: 1-11
“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest heaven. When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, Who is this? The crowds were saying, This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Much to my chagrin, math is part of our homeschool routine.
I’m much better at reading stories, and yet alas, this week I was helping Naomi identify quadrilaterals and parallelograms while the twins were practicing writing out both the number and the word two on a worksheet.
Either I was taking too long with my eldest, or Caroline’s ADHD got the best of her, but her twos became quite a blurry mess.
In some respects, we also have a mess of twos in our story this morning. Every Gospel tells this story for Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
But only Matthew has Jesus riding in on two animals.
Now, how one body rides on two animals, I have no idea.
What I know is that Matthew always goes to great pains to show his readers how the story of Jesus is part of a larger story, how Jesus is the fulfilment of what the prophets have long told us. And the prophet Zechariah did say that our king would come, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Now, maybe it is just the parallelograms still on my mind, but I wonder if the prophet wasn’t talking about two animals, but just trying to underscore his point.
And perhaps Matthew needs some homeschooling about the dangers of reading a text too literally or perhaps, Matthew was trying to communicate something about Jesus with this two fourlegged friends. It could be that the donkey, a coronation animal, speaks of Jesus as King and the colt, a young, more vulnerable creature, reminds us that this King is humble; his power is made perfect in weakness. However you make meaning of this, what we have is some messy math. Two horses one Jesus.
But this story doesn’t stop there with this business of twos. One scholar of this story says that Matthew is inviting the reader to put on theological bifocals and read these events at two levels simultaneously[i]. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, the Holy City. It is home to the Temple, the dwelling place of God. And Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, the very the center of opposition to Jesus, the place where Jesus will suffer and die.
As Jesus makes his way there, there are, you guessed it, two distinct groups who react. The crowds and the whole city. The crowds will eventually turn on Jesus, but here the crowd gets it. With their leafy palm branches they give Jesus a royal welcome and greet him with loud Hosannas. It is a parade we join in on too. This is our king. The whole city, on the other hand, the whole city Matthew says, is in turmoil and has no idea what is going on, “Who is this?” They ask.
Matthew seems to be quite good at twos. Maybe I should get him to come teach math at my house. But here’s the thing, while I suppose it is helpful for us as readers to put on our bifocals and take note of all the dual natures that are going on here, Jesus doesn’t. No, his eyes are set on one thing. The road ahead. Riding straight into Jerusalem. He does so because of the one lens through which he sees all of creation, the lens of love.
Scholar Tom Long says that at the beginning of Jesus ministry, the devil had tempted Jesus to throw himself off of the temple confident that God would send angels to break his fall. Instead, here, Jesus throws himself into the temple, into the teeth of those who would destroy him, and no angels are sent to rescue him.
This is the beginning of Holy Week and Jesus is riding resolutely forward. If this were homeschool lit class, this would be where Samwise Gamgee says to Frodo that the people in the old stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding onto something. This is where Harry Potter’s heart beats fiercely in his chest as he walks straight into the forbidden forest. Resolutely. Forward. Jesus may be sitting on two animals, but Jesus is only going one way.
The summer I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education at UNC Hospitals the chaplains slept in an on call room up near the helipad, so if you were called in the middle of the night to respond, there was a bit of a walk to get to patient rooms. I have keen memories of walking down a hallway, in my memory, it is some sort of skywalk, with glass on both sides, brightly lit in the dead of night. I remember walking that hallway toward a room. In those memories, I am quite scared, yearning for sleep, feeling wholly inadequate for the task, but walking that hall, nevertheless, because a love was driving me. God’s love for whoever was going to be in that patient room, and God’s love that was already there waiting for me to enter.
I’ve been thinking about that hallway a lot in these days. About that hallway and so many more like it where medical staff keep walking forward during this pandemic. I suppose there are multiple ways to view our life with COVID 19. On the one hand our community is terrified and paralyzed by grief, and on the other our community is showing its resilience and resistance to this as it rallies around the call to stay home, our tool to fight. On the one hand people are losing their jobs and the giant gaps between the haves and the have nots are laid bare, and on the other hand, systemic and creative ways of caring for one another’s needs are blossoming. On the one hand we are lonely, and on the other we being intentional about connecting in ways we never thought possible.
With Covid 19, we are using our bifocals and seeing all the multiple levels of the impact. But if I understand the text, the math of this is not Jesus’ concern.
He is driven by one thing. And one thing alone. Love.
Love that drives every step.
Love that takes every risk.
Love that will not be stopped, even by death.
So, what is King Jesus doing right now?
Walking right into the mess of this virus. Of course he is.
Walking in the middle of the night alongside every nurse who walks in bright hallways.
Parading straight to the beds of the sick and dying.
Riding directly into the homes of all who are scared silly.
While we all sing “Hosanna. Save us!
Blessed is the ONE who comes in the name of the Lord.”
He is the ONE. Amen.
[i] Tom Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion