When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
For a noted Rabbi drawing near to Jerusalem, an accompanying happy procession was not unknown. Small wonder then that when Jesus came into Jerusalem in this way, it was a cause of great joy; significant joy, recorded by Matthew, Luke and Mark in ways that are very similar. Mark’s account has all the ingredients the others have – the obtaining of an ass, the setting out from the Mount of Olives, a significant act in itself as it was along this route that the Messiah was to come, the cheering crowds throwing cloaks and branches in the pathway, and then – and then, in the other Synoptic Gospels, comes the cleansing of the Temple. There is no specific statement that this event followed immediately after the entry into Jerusalem, and the probability is that it followed the next day, but Mark is more specific and the ‘then’ is almost anticlimactic, perhaps the reason the other Gospel writers omitted to mention it: Jesus looked around at everything, going back to Bethany for the night.
Sounds a bit dull? Not for me; for me it makes absolute sense that Jesus would go to look about the Temple; the focus of pilgrimage, entering into the glory of the place, wondering at the structure, sharing in prayer, noting the good and noting the corrupt, then taking time to prayerfully reflect on it all that evening and night. Although Mark says only ‘he’ I am sure that Jesus’ disciples would have been around; the remark that he went out to Bethany with them would seem to support this. The next day he would return, and then the confrontation would begin as he overturned the tables of the money-changers, but for now, following a joyful, worshipful time in procession, he and his disciples took time to relax together and wander about seeing the sights like any other young men up from the country; a companiable time made extra valuable for Jesus, I suspect, through his awareness of all that was to come.
Which makes me think, how much do I value time with friends – even just short times together? And how often do I take time to really look around and reflect on all I see, with others or alone? It’s no bad idea to try both, especially if the time ahead is going to be fraught. After all, if it was good enough for Jesus . . .
Loving God, in this day, guide us by your Spirit to have eyes, hearts and minds wide open to the wonder of the holy places, and the wonder of the city street and country path. Help us cherish and pray for them, and all about us, in Jesus’ name. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister and member of Waddington Street URC, Durham.