When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

Palms and Psalms

On they came, then, our Lord and the Twelve, and the pilgrims from Galilee, out of the gates of Jericho, up the Red Road, on the way to Jerusalem. At noon they rested in the shadow of the great rocks: at night they came to Bethany. The little town was already full of people who had come to the Feast of the Passover. Some of them slept in tents, some in the fields, some in the houses of friends. Our Lord stayed with Lazarus. The next day was the sabbath, and that evening they made him a supper in the house of a Pharisee named Simon, who had been a leper. For not all the Pharisees were enemies. Lazarus sat at the table, and Martha served. That was the time when Mary broke the alabaster box of precious ointment. She broke the box, and poured the ointment on our Lord's head.

Some of the guests did not like that, perhaps because they felt that our Lord would not like it: he was always so plain and simple, and seemed not to care to have things done for him. So one said, thinking he was speaking our Lord's thought, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred dollars, and given to the poor?" The speaker had also another and worse reason for saying what he did. He was the treasurer of the Twelve. All their money was kept in one bag, and he carried the bag. It was never very heavy: partly because so little was put into it, partly because so much was taken out whenever they found anybody in need, and partly—some of them were beginning to suspect—because the treasurer took what did not belong to him; he took money out of the bag and put it in his own pocket. The treasurer's name was Judas Iscariot. But our Lord said that Mary had done right, and added,—looking forward to the cross,—"She has anointed me for my burial."

Then came the day which we call Sunday, and that morning, at the service in the temple, people were saying one to another, "Will the Prophet come? What do you think, will he come to the feast?" Some answered, "No, the rulers have determined to kill him; he will keep himself out of their reach." But others answered, "Yes, he has come already. Last night he slept at Bethany, and to-day he will be seen here in the city." "What is that?" men cried. "Is he indeed coming? Let us go out to meet him." Accordingly many people went out from Jerusalem, singing as they went, and having in their hands branches of palms which they waved as the wind waves the tops of the trees.

Meanwhile, our Lord was making his preparations at Bethany. It had been written, centuries before, in the Old Testament, that when the King came he would come sitting on an ass's colt: "Fear not, daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt." In that country the horse was used in war, the ass was used in peace. So our Lord sent two disciples to the next village, where a man lived whom he knew. "There," he said, at the corner of the street, you will find a colt tied by the door; loose him, and bring him to me." And they found, as he had said, and untied the colt; and the man who owned the beast looked out and said, "What are you doing with my colt?" and they answered, as our Lord had taught them, "The Master needs him." So the owner knew that they had come from his friend the prophet of Nazareth, as had been arranged.

They brought the colt, and cast their long cloaks over his back for a saddle, and seated our Lord thereon, and started for the city. There was a great company of people following, and presently they met the multitude who were coming from Jerusalem, who turned about so that Jesus was in the midst. And they threw their garments in the road that he might ride over them, and tore down branches from the trees and spread them in the way, and sang psalms: "Hosanna: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." And the whole multitude of the disciples rejoiced with great joy, and praised God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen. One cried, "He healed the sick in our town. They were brought to him on beds and went away walking and leaping." Another cried, "I was dumb, and he made me speak." And another, "I was a leper, and he made me clean." And others, "We stood by when Lazarus came out of the grave." The loudest voice of all was that of Bartimæus, crying, "I was blind and he gave me sight." Thus they went, laughing and crying, shouting and singing, and Jesus riding in the midst; till some of the Pharisees said, "This is too much. Master, rebuke thy disciples." And he answered, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."

In this manner the King came towards his own city. Even now he were no crown, and had no royal robe upon his shoulders: he was very different from other kings. Nevertheless he came as a king, to see at last whether they would accept him or reject him. Even on the way, in the midst of the palms and the psalms, his heart sank within him. He felt that the Pharisees, with their cold looks, represented most of the people. It was indeed possible that the city might give him a loyal greeting, but not likely. They came to a place in the road where the way rounds a corner of the mountain, and Jerusalem came suddenly into view across a deep ravine. There it lay, the holy city, on its splendid hills, with its great buildings, and, crowning all, the stately temple with its shining roofs. Then the King stopped. and tears came into his eyes, and he cried, with a bitter lamentation, "If thou hadst known, even thou at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."

And so it was. It seemed for a moment as if all the world had gone after him; the city was moved at his entrance; but the movement was one of curiosity. Few people had any idea what the procession meant. They saw a crowd of farmers from Galilee, and one riding amongst them, and they said, "Who is this?" and the farmers answered, "This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." But the city folk thought little of the people who lived in the country. They paid no more attention. And in a little while the men with the palm branches were lost in the general crowd which filled the streets.

The disowned King went into the temple, and there looked about, sadly and sternly, and then returned alone, or with only the Twelve beside him, to spend the night at Bethany.