The National Catholic Review
It is time to enter Jerusalem and its Temple area. Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east, from the Jordan River area; he must climb the Mount of Olives, passing key towns of Bethany and Bethphage on its crown. Once over the top of the Mountain, Jesus can see Jerusalem before him; this city is on a mountain of less height than the Mount of Olives. To enter Jerusalem, Jesus descends the Mount of Olives, aiming for the south end of Jerusalem. As he reaches the bottom of his descent and prepares for the ascent into Jerusalem, he leaves his animal and undergoes a ritual bath for cleanliness before entering upon the Temple platform; to reach this platform, he must ascend about three stores of stairs – then he has arrived in the sacred precincts, which are about the size of a soccer field. To descend from the Mount of Olives Jesus has his disciples commandeer the colt upon which no one has ever sat; should taking this colt raise eyebrows, the disciples are to say that the Master has need of it and will send it back at once. And so the story plays out these details. Why such attention to this point? One thing is manifest here, and it is the central point: Jesus is Lord, and the Lord is preparing to enter Jerusalem. The story does not suggest the theory that people knew Jesus from earlier days and so would be inclined to lend him the colt. Rather, it seems he simply commands and all obey. We are prepared to think of Jesus as Lord before the attacks against him and his violent death. The Lordship of Jesus is revealed in dramatic fashion; this entire episode is written to impress the reader with Jesus’ Lordship. To ride a colt may seem humble, but it is, in the OT, a normal way of travel for kings. Before the Lord the way is prepared, even if it be with only branches and one’s clothes. Hosanna, outside liturgical usage, means ’Please save!’; within liturgical usage, as here, it means ’praise, glory to the one who comes’. The cry of the crowds is a profession of faith that Jesus is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, and for this he should be blessed, shown favor. To the crowds Jesus, as the one who comes in the name of the Lord, may be a prophet, but the reader, already baptized in the name of Jesus knows this cry to mean ’Son of God, Messiah’. Also, the crowd shows it favor as it blesses ’the kingdom of David to come’. The idea is that the crowd sees in Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem the imminent fulfillment of the promise that God would once again be covenant partner with Israel; being in his Kingdom is the sign that the old relationship exists again. Mark has Jesus pass right through to the Temple. There, like its Master, he surveys everything – with the intention of returning. Jesus goes back up the Mount of Olives, to stay in Bethany, the town we know to be that of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The fig tree story is best explained as a very symbolic moment. Jesus, about to ’tackle’ Jerusalem, looks for figs on a fig tree. Mark is clear that it was not the time for figs. Still, Jesus curses the tree for not giving him figs: may no one eat of your fruit again! Jesus is coming to Israel at a time when it should respond to his expectations, but cannot, for it is not its time to do so. It is not its time, because it has blinded itself to the truth about who Jesus is; it will not accept him, but will kill him. Cursed are those of Israel who refuse to accept Jesus, who have blocked themselves from having faith in him. We are, at the entrance to Jerusalem, reminded of the entrance into parable-telling: ’they may look but not perceive, and hear and not understand, in order that they may not be converted’. That their blindness is self-inflicted (or the punishment of God, a less likely interpretation), they are the tree from which fruit was expected, but from which none will come. A suitable beginning of a stay in Jerusalem which will end in violent death. John Kilgallen, SJ