Who Is This?

Lectio: Matthew 21:1-11 (NRSV) 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 fulfill 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.”

Contemplation: “Who is this?”

Meditation: Bethphage, “house of unripe figs,” is a small village on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives, two miles away from the city of Jerusalem. Bethphage is the place where Jesus cursed the fig tree for not producing fruit, where he met Martha after Lazarus died, and where the disciples found the donkey required for his entry into Jerusalem.

A procession from the Bethphage Church to Jerusalem, reenacting Jesus’ last entry into Jerusalem, is held every year for Christian pilgrims that travel to Israel during Easter. The Holy Land tours I have been on the last two years include a reenactment of the procession from the top of the eastern slope down to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives. The hill sharply declines and passes by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cemeteries that sit directly across from Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. 

During Jesus’ time, the cemetery would have already been 1,000 years old and contained the graves of the greatest leaders, rabbis, and prophets. From the cemetery, you can look across the Kidron Valley to a grand view of the whole city of Jerusalem. It is possible to believe that when Jesus got to this point in his Palm Sunday journey to Jerusalem that he paused, and beholding the city, wept over it. He then said,  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! You do not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Lk. 19:41,44). The tears of Jesus demonstrate great love for the city and its people. They also reflect a deep sorrow because he knew that, like many of the prophets before him sent by God to Jerusalem to bring them back into a covenant relationship, he too would be rejected and killed. And he shed tears because he could envision the violence and destruction the city would undergo by Rome. 

The multitude that accompanies the Lord to Jerusalem was composed of two groups of people that converged somewhere between Bethphage and Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, those gathered in the eastern villages the night before and those that came out from Jerusalem to meet Jesus waving palm branches to welcome him (John 12:13). 

Jesus receives the accolades and Kingly acclamations from the crowd that follow him from the Mt. of Olives into the city through the Golden Gate, a gate associated with the approach of the coming Messiah. But once in the city, turmoil begins. The Judean residents in Jerusalem for the Passover, ask, “Who is this? 

The question about Jesus’ identity from the Judeans is important because most of Jesus’ ministry occurred in the northern part of Israel around the region of Galilee. Jesus only came to Jerusalem for the Passover three or four times during his ministry.  While he was well known in the northern part of Israel for his teachings, healings, and miracles, Jesus was not well known in the southern part of Israel, or the region of Judea. 

The Galileans and other northerners accompanying Jesus, answer the question, “Who is this?,” by showing pride in Him as from Galilee, their own prophet. They proudly proclaim, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

That answer was later adopted to set the people of Judea against him resulting in his rejection and crucifixion (John 7:52).

I meditate today on how our conscious and unconscious biases about people based on the group they belong to can lead to rash decisions and discriminatory practices that have harmful outcomes.

Prayer: I pray for the grace to be self-aware of my biases so that I may do no harm.  

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