Any lesser prophet would have merely galloped into the city on a white horse, but Jesus had other ideas for his final one-way trip from Jericho to Jerusalem. The beginning of the 21st chapter of the gospel of Matthew has the juicy details.
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples. Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.
If you’re thinking this sounds suspiciously close to livestock rustling, that makes two of us. Also, Bethphage is approximately Greek for “that which eats Beth” – just sayin’.
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
Meek? He commandeered the damn donkey, and the colt or foal or whatever it was, from some poor sap of a villager in the vicinity of the mount of Olives. That sounds pretty bloody high-handed to me. Why wait around to inherit the Earth when you can help yourself to a nice piece of ass (and a colt) on the way through the little town of Beth-eater, I guess. Also, surely the syntax is just a little confused there – he’s not actually going to sit on the ass and the colt, is he?
And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them. And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
I honestly don’t know what to picture. How would you go about setting some hapless rabbi with delusions of grandeur on an ass and a colt at the same time? The colt would presumably have been a lot smaller than the ass, which wouldn’t have helped, unless Jesus was sitting on the ass and just resting his foot on the colt or something. Still, having two mounts in a milieu in which many people probably couldn’t have afforded even one could hardly have added to the impression of humility. Want to cometh unto the daughter of Sion meek? Why not just walk?
And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.
There’s a bit more about hosannas and throwing moneychangers out of a temple and such, but we’ve already come to what, on Palm Sunday, we ought to acknowledge as the crux of the matter – the rather wantonly destructive cutting and strawing of branches. The Catholic Church finds this detail so inspiring that faithful members of the flock commemorate poor old Jesus’ ungainly lurch into Jerusalem not by ludicrously attempting to simultaneously ride equids of very different sizes (which might at least be a good bit of fun) but rather by brandishing specially blessed palm fronds (“an emblem of joy and victory over enemies”, which I suppose might sound less risible to people who really believe one can jump up and ascend to heaven a few days after being crucified in the finest Roman style) and eventually incinerating them to provide the raw material for next year’s Ash Wednesday. How they’re so certain the branches mentioned by Matthew were supposed to be those of palm trees I really don’t know.
All this raises an interesting and environmentally significant question: where do the Catholics get all the necessary palm fronds? Find out here.