This week the Narrative Lectionary brings us to Luke 19:28-44. We have finally arrived in Jerusalem. We’ve been traveling here with Jesus since chapter 9.
This Sunday is traditionally called Palm Sunday. The event is called the Triumphal Entry. If you grew up in the church then you probably have fond memories of children parading around the sanctuary waving palm branches while the congregation sings “Hosanna!” People are generally smiling and the tone of the word is joyful and light.
This week, as I’ve studied the story in Luke’s version, a few questions have popped up.
Where are the palm branches?
Where are the “hosannas”?
Why are we so happy when Jesus is so somber?
I invite you to meditate on two images.
First, here is a collection of the drawings of this event that I have done over the past four years as I have been drawing my way through the Gospels in a graphic novel style (check it out at https://cartoonistbible.com/the-bible-bookshelf/loj/). What differences do you notice?
The second image is a screen shot I took of my Bible Software after I spent some time doing a comparison of the four accounts of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, side-by-side. I color coded the comparison.
Green is for parts that are shared by all four Gospels.
Orange is what is shared by Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptics).
Red is shared by Matthew and Mark.
Yellow is shared by Mark and Luke.
Purple is shared by Matthew and John
Blue is unique to Luke.
Take your time. Click the image to enlarge it. What do you notice in this comparison?
Here are a some things that I notice:
John is the only one who mentions palm branches. Matthew and Mark say that people “cut branches from trees” and “spread leafy branches that they had cut in the field.”
Luke doesn’t mention branches at all. What?!? No palm branches at the Triumphal entry!?!
Matthew, Mark and John begin the words of the people with “Hosanna!” Matthew and Mark conclude the shout with a second time, “Hosanna in the highest heaven.”
Luke doesn’t mention the word “hosanna” at all. What?!? No “hosanna” at the Triumphal Entry?!?
It is important to note that all four Gospels include “Blessed is the one/king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is Psalm 118:26.
Take a moment to go read that Psalm. It is very likely that the people were actually singing the entire Psalm as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem. It was a Psalm that they new well. It is a song of victory. It praises God because God heard the cries of the people and delivered them. It is a Psalm that welcomes the king whom God used to deliver them from their enemies and restore them to safety. And, yes, it mentions waving branches in the processional, so there’s that.
Verse 25 says, “Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!” The Hebrew being translated “Save us” is two words ho-si-ah na, literally, “save us, please” Matthew, Mark, and John choose to transliterate the Hebrew into Greek and make up the word Hosanna!
Why does Luke choose to not include verse 25 when he quotes the people?
The Uniqueness of Luke
Look at the comparison image again. Notice all the blue. Luke adds quite a bit to this story. Why?
First, notice what he adds to the words of the people when he excludes “hosanna.” Matthew, Mark and Luke add a phrase that is not found in Psalm 118. They are sending their praise “in the highest heaven.” The term “heaven” in the ancient world referred to everything above the ground: the sky, clouds, sun, moon, stars. Remember, they were operating under a three tiered cosmology (see here for more on that). Everything that lived in the heavens was an elohim–a spiritual being, or god–of some sort. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the supreme elohim, who was in the highest heaven, the one who was above it all. The people were connecting Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with something bigger than just a military victory. Perhaps God was doing something cosmic here.
Notice what Luke does. He doesn’t say “hosanna in the highest heaven.” He says, “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.”
The term glory is the Greek word doxa. It occurs 12 times and is a major theme for Luke.
The glory of God shone around the shepherds when the host of heaven appeared to them and the messengers cried out “glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among the favored ones.”
Simeon called the baby jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The devil claimed glory and authority and offered it to Jesus.
Jesus claimed that he would come in glory.
Moses and Elijah appeared in glory on the mount of transfiguration.
Jesus described Solomon in all his glory and how it didn’t compare to the lilies.
Jesus warned of the destruction of Jerusalem and that the Son of Man would come in a cloud with power and great glory.
Finally, as Jesus walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he said that the Messiah must suffer and then enter into his glory.
Glory is important for Luke, but not just glory. The glory of Jesus is peace in heaven and on earth.
The religious leaders were not pleased with what the crowd was saying–another theme in Luke–and tell Jesus to stop them. Jesus says, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
This is unique to Luke. Something is happening here that is bigger than the people of Jerusalem. The earth itself is waiting for this moment.
It is not “Save us, please!” It is “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” What is happening?
Not a Celebration
The final thing I observe from Luke’s version of this story is that this is not a celebration for Jesus. The crowds don’t understand. Jesus weeps over the city because he knows that, very soon, their violent attitude toward Rome, and their need to bring in the kingdom of God through military revolution, would lead to their destruction.
They did not recognize the things that make for peace. The term translated recognize is ginosko in Greek. It means to experientially know something, to be aware of it on a deep level.
The people did not know peace. They did not understand Jesus’ mission. Another theme throughout Luke is that those who have eyes to see and ears to hear can see and know the Kingdom of God. The people of Jerusalem did not see, hear, or know what Jesus was trying to do, and it would be their undoing.
And that broke his heart.
A Different Kind of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday feels different for me this year. It comes after one year of COVID isolation and severe political and social violence and unrest. I am tired. The world is tired. We are celebrating vaccinations, but the waving of branches seems pale to me. It seems that all we know is hatred, fear, self-protection, self-justification and violence toward one another.
This year I feel more like standing with Jesus and just crying.
I want to cry out, “Save us from ourselves, oh LORD! Help us to know what makes for peace!”