- Hope on Union
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, and the church historically has celebrated this day as the day when the people recognized Jesus as the Messiah and honored him as he entered Jerusalem.
However, as we study history, we are left with more questions than answers. The first issue is why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a small donkey or a colt. The prophecy of Zachariah (9:9) states that the king comes humbly riding on a colt. Based on the text, and Christian church interprets the passage as Jesus fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus being the Messiah. It is most likely that this was later added to make Jesus fulfill the prophecy.
The second issue is the use of palms. Palm fronds were historically used by Canaanites, the first people of the land that was taken over by Israelites. During their new year/harvest festivals, which included a seven-day celebration with sacrifices, Canaanites took the fronds and made “dwellings” of branches and waved them in celebration. People on the streets of Jerusalem were a part of the pagan harvest ritual.
The Israelites who moved there copied this and incorporated it into their religious traditions and called them “dwellings of branches,” and they celebrated “the festival of ingathering” from the field. As the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey, the land where they will always have enough food, they started their new year with the harvest or Sukkot. In the Old Testament, Israelites celebrated Sukkot, or the Festival of Booths, and used the palm fronds as their walls or the roof.
So, during this time, palm branches were present all around the city, so when they thought a cult leader of the Way was coming into the city, the most likely interpretation is that the people were mocking Jesus by placing the palms on the ground.
The third is that they shouted Hosanna when Jesus entered. But the Israelites were expecting salvation from the Roman empire. We have to remember that the Israelites believe that every last Jewish believer will be saved because they are the children of God. There was no concept of them needing to be spiritually saved by God. They believe they are all already going to heaven. The salvation they were waiting for was political salvation, and they believed that God will save them from the Roman empire just like God freed them from the Egyptians.
The fourth issue was Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables. We have to remember that this event takes place as they were getting ready for Passover, and it is during Sukkot when they lived out in the shelters made from palm fronds and other materials from the fields to symbolize humility. The Festival of Booth was to remember that all good gifts are from God.
Most likely, Jesus’ anger was because the money changing made the sacrifices about getting the right animals rather than the humility of the person bringing the sacrifice. The money changers were a part of the system that made the appearance in worship more significant than the heart of those who came to God in worship.
The message of Palm Sunday is not the pageantry of palms but the humility of the worshipper.