After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.”35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Translation: And after he said this, he was journeying ahead, going up into Jerusalem. And it happened just as he drew near into Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount, the one called Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the opposite village, in which you enter. You will find a colt having been tied upon which no human being has ever sat. Untie it, and bring. If someone might ask you, 'Why do you untie?' you will answer, 'The Lord has need of it.'" The ones that were sent went. They found just as he said to them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why do you untie the colt?" And they said, "The Lord has need of it."
And they brought it to Jesus, and they cast their cloaks upon the colt, and they sat Jesus. And as he was journeying, they were spreading their cloaks on the way. And as he was drawing near, now to the descent of the mount of olives, all the multitude of disciples began rejoicing to praise God with a loud voice concerning all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord, in heaven peace, and glory in the highest." And some of the pharisees of the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He answered and said to them, "I say to you, if they will hold their peace, the stones will cry out."
Background and situation: The primary source is Mark (11:1-10). The parallels are Matthew 21: 1-9, John 12: 12-19, and this week's lection from Luke (19:28-40). The reading has three parts--the disciples get a colt, his followers joyously affirm Jesus as king, and the pharisees object.
Generally speaking, Luke follows Mark fairly closely, but with some subtle changes. Luke, for example, speaks of Jesus "journeying ahead" and "going up into Jerusalem". (Mark has "drew near"). In Luke, Jesus has been "journeying" to Jerusalem ever since 9:51. That theme dominates 10 chapters of Luke, about 40% of the book. (Between 9:51 and 19:28, Luke uses the word "journey" nine times.) In 19:28, the beginning of our lection, Jesus is almost there. He will arrive in 19:45.
Jerusalem is particularly important to Luke, who has more references to Jerusalem than all of the other three gospels put together. (Of 143 references to Jerusalem in the New Testament, 94 of them are in Luke/Acts.)
It is not surprising, then, that Luke ratchets up the importance of Jesus' arrival at the Holy City. As Mark does, Luke includes the geographical "markers" of Bethphage-Bethany-Mount of Olives to indicate the final stages of Jesus' approach. The Mount of Olives carried special eschatological weight for first century Jews. In Zechariah (14:4), when the Day of the Lord comes, the Lord would approach Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives--"On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives."
Jesus as king: Before he actually enters the city, Jesus will send two of his disciples into a nearby village to procure a "colt." Jesus has apparently been in contact with members of the "Jesus movement underground" in the vicinity, and has arranged for gaining possession of a young horse. He tells the two disciples what to look for, a tied-up colt, and what password to give the owners: "The Lord has need of it."
The colt (polos) has royal associations. Zechariah 9:9: "Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he; humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." Luke does not include this actual verse, though Matthew does. (Luke appears to be working with a Greek Old Testament. The Septuagint version of Zechariah speaks of a "new colt," i.e. one that had not been ridden.)
The Greek text identifies the owners of the colt as "lords" (kurios) of the colt. (NRSV has "owners.") Yet, they freely hand it over when told that "the Lord has need of it." They may indeed be "lords" of the colt, but, as partners with Jesus, they recognize that his lordship trumps theirs.
The two disciples brought the colt to Jesus, "cast their cloaks" upon it, and then, "they sat Jesus." This rather odd construction, and the unusual mental image it evokes, is a way of saying that the two disciples assert Jesus' kingliness. These disciples have followed Jesus' instructions in regard to getting the colt. Having done that, their placing Jesus on the colt is an act of their own. On their own initiative, they affirm Jesus' royalty.
As he was "journeying"--the tenth usage of poreuo since 9:51--"they were spreading their cloaks on the way." This is yet another sign of royal acclamation. In 2 Kings 9:13, the spreading of cloaks was a sign of greeting for the king: "Then hurriedly they all took their cloaks and spread them for him...and they blew the trumpet, and proclaimed, ‘Jehu is king.’"
Luke has not yet used the actual word "king," but he has worked toward it by setting an elaborate stage. As noted, Luke has alluded to Zechariah 9:9 which speaks of "your king." Then, among his surreptitious supporters, Jesus' lordship exceeds that of the "lords" of the colt. That the disciples put Jesus on the colt is a way of saying that his disciples recognize him as king. That they spread their cloaks reinforces the point. (Luke does not include Mark's "leafy branches," probably because it does not have explicit regal associations.)
The high privilege of acclaiming Jesus publicly and openly as king is reserved for "all the multitude of disciples" as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives. They shout: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord." The line comes from Psalm 118:26: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."
Mark quotes Psalm 118 directly, but Luke makes one slight editorial change--not "blessed is the one," you will note, but "blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord." Jesus had been called "king" by the angel Gabriel before he was born (1:32). Now, he is publicly acknowledged as king by all his followers.
Luke's changes to Mark are most dramatic at precisely this point. Mark has: "...those who went before and those who followed cried out..." Luke is more effusive. He says that "all the multitude of disciples" are "rejoicing" (xairontes) and praising (ainein) God "in a loud voice" (phone megale) for all the "mighty works" (dunameon) which they had seen. Luke's scene is joyous.
Next, in Mark, the second acclamation is: "Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!" Luke changes this to: "In heaven peace, and glory in the highest!" This is reminiscent of the song of the angels in Luke 2:14: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace."
The difference, of course, is that peace has not yet come to the earth. Indeed, we are about to see how far away from peace the earth, and Jerusalem in particular, really are--"in heaven peace," yes, but not yet the earth.
Jesus had held out an olive branch to Jerusalem in 13:35: "...you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." As Jesus journeys into Jerusalem however, the citizens of that city do not say this. Only "all the multitude of disciples" do. Nevertheless, the promise of Christmas remains and will yet be fulfilled in the coming days.
Luke adds verses 39-40. (They don't appear in Mark.) "Some of the pharisees" speak. This is the last time they will do so in Luke's gospel. Inside Jerusalem, Jesus' opponents will be Sadducees and Temple officials, not pharisees.
These pharisees call on Jesus to make his disciples stop their affirmation of him as king. "Teacher," they say, "rebuke (epitimeson) your disciples." For Luke, "teacher" is a diminutive title, far less than "king." "Rebuke" means "make them stop."
Jesus responds: "I say to you, if they will hold their peace, the stones will cry out." The verbs are in the future tense. Jesus is speaking as a prophet here. Indeed, Jesus is seen as being in the prophetic tradition all through Luke's gospel.
In essence, Jesus is saying that if his disciples would stop speaking joyfully of the peace they have found in him, then nature itself would assert it. (The reference to stones crying out is from Hab 2:13.) There are no shouting stones in Luke's gospel, although one which the builders rejected will become head of the corner (20:17), and one very big one will get rolled away (24:2).
Image: Entry into Jerusalem, John August Swanson