2/40 The solemn, yet simple entry into Jerusalem.
Come, and as we make our way up to the Mount of Olives, let us go out to meet Christ, who is returning today from Bethany, and of his own will makes haste towards his most venerable and revered passion, whereby he will bring to fulfilment the mystery of the salvation of mankind.
Jesus leaves Bethany very early in the morning. Many fervent disciples of his had gathered there since the previous evening; some were natives of Galilee who had come on pilgrimage to celebrate the Passover, others were inhabitants of Jerusalem who had been won over by the recent miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. Accompanied by this large gathering, as well as by others who joined them on the way, Jesus once more sets out along the old road from Jericho to Jerusalem towards the tiny summit of the Mount of Olives.
The circumstances favoured a great reception, because it was customary for the people to go out to greet the larger groups of pilgrims, who would enter into the city with songs and demonstrations of joy. Our Lord showed no opposition to the preparations for this jubilant entry. He himself would choose the sort of mount he would ride in on – a simple donkey which he had asked to be brought from Bethphage, a village very close to Jerusalem. People of importance had used the donkey as a form of travel in Palestine as far back as the time of Balaam.
The procession was organised quite quickly. Some people spread a blanket on top of the animal and helped Jesus to mount upon it; others came forward to lay their garments on the ground to form a carpet for the donkey to pass over; many others ran along the roadside following the procession as it moved towards the city, laying down bits of green foliage along the route and waving olive and palm branches torn off the trees close by. And as they drew close to the city, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem as the Messiah upon a donkey, just as had been prophesied many centuries before. The people, also, acclaim him in clearly messianic fashion. The pharisees knew these prophecies very well, but so also did the common people, and they were visibly overjoyed. Jesus accepts this homage and tells the pharisees, who were trying to dampen this demonstration of faith and joy, I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.
In any case, the triumph of Jesus is a simple affair, he makes do with a poor animal for a throne. I don’t know about you; but I am not humiliated to acknowledge that in the Lord’s eyes I am a beast of burden: ‘I am like a donkey in your presence, but I am continually with you. You hold my right hand,’ (Ps 72:23-24) you take me by the bridle.
Jesus also wants to enter triumphantly into the lives of men today, riding upon a humble animal; he would like us to bear witness to him in the simplicity of our work done well, showing forth our cheerfulness, our serenity and our sincere concern for others. He wants to be close to us through the circumstances of normal human dealings. We too can tell him on a day like today, Ut iumentum factus sum apud te ... I am like a little donkey before You. But You are always close to me, You have taken me by the bridle and brought me to do Your will; ‘et cum gloria suscepisti me’, and afterwards you have given me a big hug. Ut iumentum ...I am like a donkey before You, Lord ... like a beast of burden, and I shall always remain close to You. This could be an aspiration for us to use today.
Our Lord has entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. A few days later, in this same city, he will be nailed to a cross.