It might seem strange talking about the Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem just a few weeks before Christmas. But our New Testament Challenge today has us follow with the crowds as they shout their hymns of “Hosanna!” and wave branches in the air. (Mark 11:1-19)

And yet, the stories match perfectly. The theme of Kingship runs throughout all the Gospels, and especially the Gospel of Mark. How could it not? The “good news” that Mark proclaims begins with the Voice from Heaven proclaiming, “This is my beloved son.” In the Old Testament, the king of Israel was the “beloved son” of God.  Our Lord constantly laid claim to the Messianic title through the code of his parables.

As he marches to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, a celebration (of freedom (like our Independence Day) and the time when the Jews expected the Messiah to take Jerusalem as his own, to mount to the highest point of the Temple and to lead the revolution against the pagan Romans. Passover was always a dangerous time for the ruling Romans, and this Passover was even more tense than usual with the young Rabbi from Galilee who had hinted to his followers about royal pretensions (just yesterday we heard the blind Bartimaeus crying out to him as “the Son of David”!) coming into the city.

The Entrance into Jerusalem

But then it broke. The crowds began to throw their garments on the ground before him (something you would not normally do in the dusty conditions of Palestine) and to wave branches around him. Their cries of welcome to the “coming kingdom” were cries of revolution under the guise of a religious procession.

For anyone who knew recent history, the symbols could not be mistaken. A little more than a hundred years before, they celebrated the purification of the temple by their great liberator Judas Macchabaeus who had defeated the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes, and had entered Jerusalem as conqueror and king (2 Maccabees 10:1-9; cf. the same celebration when Judas’ brother Simon enters Jerusalem 1 Maccabees 13:51).

The King was riding into his city; his people were singing hymns of welcome. All was ready for revolution. So when our Lord went to the Temple, he looked around and went back to Bethany where he and the disciples were staying. Nothing. No revolution. No call to kill Romans.  The King seems to have become a tourist.

The crowd just didn’t understand. From the passage we read yesterday, it seems the disciples also still did not understand. They saw our Lord as an earthly king, and they were ready to be his courtiers, to receive the honor of the crowd as the “inner circle”. There was going to be a revolution, but not the revolution the crowd was expecting. The King was going to his enthronement, but that throne would turn out to be the cross, and the royal proclamation would be a piece of wood inscribed with “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The royal throne had not changed. The new-born King had already been born in a cave-stable for animals in an obscure town in Judea, far away from the royal palace of the man who claimed to be king. His throne then was a manger, a trough for feeding animals, the rough wood already anticipating the cross. And yet, this hidden King received the adoration of the shepherds and the gifts of the Magi. God began overturning all our worldly sensibilities in that cave.

“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” the Magi asked Herod. From today’s reading we could answer: “He is entering like a victor into his city to go to be enthroned on the wood of the cross.” And through the cross, joy has come to all the world!