Today is Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to a kingly welcome from his supporters and a baffled distaste from the powers that were. That distaste was already metastasising into the violent hatred that would scream for his blood days later and that would, apparently, win the day. Palm Sunday is for acknowledging both of those truths about our hearts — the unaffected joy they pour fourth when at last they see righteous leadership coming, and the fearful rage with which we reject that joy when its new kingdom threatens our self-importance.
It’s also a day for affirming that the inestimable dignity of the human person puts the so-called nobility of the world to shame. The donkey is a symbol of abasement; I've heard it compared (by A.W. Tozer) to the human form which God chooses as his steed for riding into our life. Not as a government, not as a social program, not even as the President of the United States: as a homeless man in a broken body. It’s not the world’s elites that God exalts; it’s not on its political winners that He places His bets. I speak as much to myself as to you when I say: do thou likewise. Invest neither your fears nor your hopes in princes. Not in the fiscal conservatives or the liberal democrats; not in the welfare state or the NRA. Maybe they’ll do some good or bad, maybe you’ll oppose them or support them for what they’re worth, but they will every one of them pass away into rubble and dust. You yourself, your fragile human self, will outlive them all.
The big men of the world and the seemingly tectonic shifts they occasion in public life are the work of a moment. The fumbling gesture of inadequate love you perform tomorrow morning over coffee or on the walk to work will endure throughout all ages in glory. The kings of this world will wither like grass. But your king is mighty to save.
When Jesus mounts his donkey, Matthew and John both quote this chapter from the Hebrew prophet Zechariah:
The proclamation of God, which the land of Hadrach and Damascus had to bear.
In Hadrach’s land, and in Damascus, is the place where he rests —
Because human eyes belong to God. So do all the tribes of Israel.
And even Hamath will set the boundaries of her territory there.
Tyre and Sidon too, because of how wise she is.
Now Tyre built herself a tight fortress;
She piled up silver like dust, and filigreed gold like sewage slopped in the streets.
Look: see my Master, bringing her to ruin.
He knocks her power down into the sea, and she becomes food for the flame.
Ashkelon will see and be afraid. Gaza will writhe in agony. Ekron too, because her prospects will be put to shame.
The king will be wiped out from Gaza. No one will live in Ashkelon.
A bastard will occupy Ashdod.
I’ll cut down the fatuous arrogance of the Philistines.
Then I’ll extract the blood from his mouth, and the travesties from between his teeth —
Yet he’ll survive, be preserved for our god. He’ll be like an authority in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.
I’ll station barracks around my house against the army, against anyone passing through or coming back.
No oppressor will ever pass through again, because now my eyes have their sight.
Throw lavish celebrations, daughter — Zion, shout in triumph!
See! Here is your king.
He is coming to you; he is righteous; he saves; he is lowly.
Impoverished: his steed is a donkey — yes, even a colt, a donkey’s young.
And I will cut down the steed from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem,
And the battle-bowmen will be cut down, and he will proclaim: peace to the people of the world.
His sovereignty extends from ocean to ocean; from the river to the utmost reaches of Earth.
You too: according to your blood-pact, I let your prisoners go free from the waterless abyss.
Go back to your fortress, prisoners of hope. This very day is the announcement: I will give you back twice as much.
Yes, I bent the arc of Judah towards me; I notched my bow with Ephraim and roused your sons, Jerusalem, against your sons, Javan.
I made you like the blade in the hands of a champion.
And God will come into sight above them. His arrows will fly out like lighting bolts;
My Master, God, will sound a blast on the trumpet
And advance in cyclones on the Southern wind.
God with his legions will protect them. They’ll feast; they’ll conquer with stones from their slings.
They’ll drink; they’ll be raucous like wine-drunk men.
They’ll be filled up like bowls, like the altar’s edges,
And God, their god, will save them on that day — like a flock, his people:
They’ll be like gemstones in a crown, his standard erected in human soil.
For what is this excellence of his, this splendour!
Harvest abundance for his chosen sons, and fresh vintage for his maiden girls,
To give them delight.