Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bible Study: Synoptics #15: Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Relevant Readings

The primary readings for this chapter are Matthew 21:1-17, Mark 11:1-19, and Luke 19:28-48.

Additional passages are: Psalm 8:3, Psalm 69:10, Psalm 119, Isaiah 56:7, Isaiah 62:11, Jeremiah 7:11, Joel 3:1-2, Habakkuk 2:11, Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 14:4-5, Mark 13:7-27, John 2:13-17, John 11:1-5, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Peter 2:11-12.

I would add Luke 13:6-9 (the parable of the barren fig tree) to this list, as well as Luke 13:31-35 which provides further context for Luke 19:41-44 (Jesus' lament for Jerusalem). I would also add John 12:12-19, which is John's brief account of Jesus' arrival. Finally, I would include Psalm 69:5, as the entirety of the psalm is appropriate to Jesus' Passion, and verse 5 in particular.


Accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in the days prior to the Passion are found in all four Gospels. The events occur in varying orders, and the characteristics vary from account to account:
Matthew 21:1-17 (19) Mark 11:1-19 Luke 19:28-48 John 12:12-19
1-7 Disciples acquire a colt and an ass 1-7 Disciples acquire a colt 28-35 Disciples acquire a colt 12 Crowds greet Jesus with palm branches
8 Crowds spread cloaks and tree branches 8 Crowds spread cloaks and leafy branches 36 Crowds spread cloaks 13 Crowds praise Jesus with "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, (even) the king of Israel."
9 Crowds praise Jesus with "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest." 9-10 Crowds praise Jesus with "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!" 37-38 Disciples praise Jesus with "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." 14-15 Jesus acquires an ass
10-11 People ask "Who is this?" and are answered "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee." 39-40 Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, Jesus replies "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!" 19 Pharisees say to one another "the whole world has gone after [Jesus]."
41-44 Jesus weeps for Jerusalem John 2:13-17
12-13 Jesus enters temple, drives out money-changers 13-14 Jesus curses the fig tree 45-46 Jesus enters temple, drives out money-changers 13-17 Jesus enters temple, drives out money-changers
15-16 Scribes hear children shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David" and question Jesus, who replies "Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise."
19 Jesus curses the fig tree 15-17 Jesus enters temple, drives out money-changers 47-48 Priests and scribes note how the people listen to Jesus
  • Matthew misinterprets Zechariah 9:9, riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass, as meaning two animals.
  • John has Jesus finding the animal after having been greeted.
  • All but Luke mention "branches", and only John specifies "palm branches".
  • The crowd's greeting to Jesus is different in all accounts.
  • The response to Jesus' arrival differs. Luke includes a lament for Jerusalem.
  • Matthew and Luke include some admonishment by the Pharisees and a reply by Jesus.
  • In Matthew, Jesus goes to the temple before the fig tree; Mark has it the other way around; John omits the fig tree altogether, whereas Luke includes a parable about a barren fig tree earlier in the Gospel.
  • John's account of the money-changers is far earlier, in John 2:13-17.


Arriving in humility

The arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem riding on the back of a colt is the fulfillment of a prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. The same message of rejoicing is found in Isaiah 62:11: Say to daughter Zion, your savior comes! Christ (the King) arriving on a beast of burden rather than on a war-animal such as a horse evokes the image of a peaceful and merciful ruler. All the same, the crowds greet him as though he were a returning conquering hero.

Praising Jesus

In two accounts, Jesus is admonished (by priests in the temple in Matthew, and by Pharisees at the procession in Luke). Jesus' replies are founded on scripture passages. In Matthew, when the priests complain about the children shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David", Jesus quotes from Psalm 8:3: Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have drawn a defense against your foes. In Luke, when the Pharisees demand Jesus rebuke his disciples (possibly for blasphemy, since they were cheering "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord"), Jesus replies and quotes Habakkuk 2:11: For the stone in the wall shall cry out. The message here is two-fold. On one hand, Jesus is saying that, were the crowd silenced, even that could not stop the glorifying of God, and that even the very rocks and stones would cry out. But the second message is deeper, and results from the more sinister intentions of the Pharisees. Jesus denounces the Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them a brood of vipers and hypocrites. He accuses them of finding men to convert, and in doing so, making them twice as fit for Gehenna as they are themselves, of locking the kingdom of heaven to those who would enter. The end of this tirade, Matthew 23:34-39, is very similar to Jesus' response to the Pharisees in Luke (see below, in "Lament for Jerusalem"): Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon earth, from the righteous blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Amen, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." The prophecy of Habakkuk is a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakkuk questions God's governing of His people, and the lack of intervention when they cry out to Him, when the just are trampled by the faithless. In the second chapter (from which comes the line Jesus alludes to), God replies to Habakkuk, and says that the unjust man's time is approaching, and that it is the unjust's behavior and dealings that will themselves set up his downfall (his treachery, his debts, his secret fears). Habakkuk 2:9-11 reads: [The LORD said:] Woe to him who pursues evil gain for his household, setting his nest high to escape the reach of misfortune! You have devised shame for your household, cutting off many peoples, forfeiting your own life: For the stone in the wall shall cry out, and the beam in the woodwork shall answer it! This wording is typical prophetic language for the condemnation of social crimes in Israel, as the palaces built through gross injustices call down their vengeance on their buidlers.

But moreso, there are two images evoked: the "stone in the wall" and "beam in the woodwork". Christ is the stone the builders rejected [which] has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22), and he would give himself up to die on a cross, on a beam of wood. The Pharisees, in rejecting Christ and searching for a way to kill him, are setting Jerusalem up for disaster (and Jesus laments this in Luke's Gospel); they are devis[ing] shame for [their] household, cutting off many peoples. If the Pharisees were to cause the crowd to "keep silent", perhaps by coercing them to call out for Jesus' death, and in doing so, try to lock the kingdom of heaven from them, Christ himself, the cornerstone, would cry out -- and not just the cries of Hosanna, but a more profound response, answering the injustices done.

"Den of thieves"

When Jesus drives the money-changers out of the temple, he quotes one (or two) lines from Scripture: Isaiah 56:7, For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples, and Jeremiah 7:11, Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? John has the disciples later recalling John 2:13-17, zeal for your house consumes me.

The fig tree

The cursing of the fruitless fig tree is reminiscent of the parable of the barren fig tree (found in Luke 13:6-9). In the parable, the owner of an orchard has a fig tree which has failed to bear fruit for three years. The gardener requests that he have one more year to cultivate the tree to see if it will bear fruit. The cursing of the tree, just after Matthew's account of the arrival, and near the end of Mark's account, is the culmination of Luke's parable. In Matthew's account the tree withers instantly, while in Mark's account the tree is withered the next time they see the tree (possibly the next day). Comparing the two, Matthew 21:18-19: When he was going back to the city in the morning, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went over to it, but found nothing on it except leaves. And he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again." And immediately the fig tree withered. and Mark 11:12-14: The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!" And his disciples heard it. we see Jesus finding a fig tree without fruit, when he is hungry. Mark adds that it was not the time of figs. What Jesus says differs slightly, but meaningfully. May no fruit ever come from you again implies that, while the tree may have borne fruit in the past, it never will again. In contrast, May no one ever eat of your fruit again hints at "rotten" fruit. A tree that is nothing but leaves and roots will take in sunlight and rain and nutrients, but if there is no fruit on the tree, there is no result of the care given to it. Whether the tree puts forth no fruit, or only rotten fruit, the punishment is clear: it is cut down.

Christ's hunger and disappointment at finding no fruit on the tree results in the tree being cut off. Mark's addition might cause us to think Christ's action was unfair: how dare he expect fruit from a tree when fruit was not in season? But just as Christ's hunger is symbolic of his calling to us at our final judgment the excuse of "come back later" will simply not do! We do not know the hour, and must be ever-ready. The fig tree that bears no fruit wastes the resources given to it, and when the gardener gives up on the tree, it is cut off.

Lament for Jerusalem

In Luke 19:41-44, Jesus laments for Jerusalem: As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If this day you only knew what makes for peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation." If we look back to Luke 13:31-35, we hear Jesus responding to Herod's threats: At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, "Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.' "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. (But) I tell you, you will not see me until (the time comes when) you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Jesus knows that his destiny is to return to Jerusalem to sacrifice himself -- it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem. He knows they will refuse, persecute, and kill him, as they have done to so many prophets before him. And because of that of their refusal of Jesus who makes for peace will have repercussions; Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.


  1. Compare Isaiah 62:11, Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:3-5, Mark 11:1-5, and Luke 19:28-34.
    The two Old Testament passages tell of the coming Zion's savior and king, with vindication for his people. He is just and meek, and comes on the back of a colt, as opposed to a horse (a symbol of war). The Gospel passages describe Jesus' preparation for entry into Jerusalem. Matthew himself quotes the Scripture of Zechariah which is being fulfilled. Each account has the disciples saying "The Master has need of it" (or "them", in Matthew's case), after which the owner of the animal(s) lets the disciples take it.
  2. Describe the geography of the Jesus' journey to Jerusalem.
    As described in Luke 19:28-30, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem started beyond Bethphage, and as he approach Bethany, he stopped at the Mount of Olives and told his disciples to fetch him a colt.
  3. What is special about Bethany?
    It was in Bethany that Lazarus (brother of Mary and Martha) lived. Lazarus became ill and died, and Jesus resurrected him. (John 11:1-5)
  4. What event is predicted from the geography of Joel 3:1-2, Zechariah 14:4-5, Mark 13:7-27, and Revelation 21:2-4?
    The first three passages relate to the tribulation and end-times, and some verses are particular to devastation in Jerusalem. Revelation's passage refers to God's restoration of Jerusalem as a new holy city, after the tribulations.
  5. What does "Hosanna" mean?
    CCC 559 defines "Hosanna" as "Save!" or "Give salvation!"
  6. When do Catholics recite the verse from Matthew 21:9?
    During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we sing "Holy, Holy, Holy", which is based upon the verse from Matthew: "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
  7. Compare Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9-10, and Luke 19:38.
    The three synoptic authors write distinct proclamations. "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest." in Matthew, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!" in Mark, and "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." in Luke.

    The three authors reveal or profess different things. Matthew recognizes Jesus as the Son of David (thus fulfilling the Messianic prophecy concerning the House of David, found in 2 Samuel 7:14-16), and includes "Hosanna". Mark mentions the kingdom of David which is to come, again referring to the prophecy of the return of the House of David; Mark also includes "Hosanna". Luke, on the other hand, has the crowd calling Jesus the king who comes in the name of the Lord, and instead of a "Hosanna", has a message similar to that which the angels spread to the shepherds at the birth of Christ: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:14).

  8. What did the Phraisees demand of Jesus in Luke 19:38-39?
    When Jesus' disciples are shouting "Blessed is the king...", the Pharisees demand Jesus rebuke them (to admonish them, and demand their silence), possibly for blasphemy (as posited above, in "Praising Jesus".
  9. How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees?
    Again, referring to "Praising Jesus", Jesus paraphrases Habakkuk 2:11 (For the stone in the wall shall cry out) saying "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40).
  10. Explain Luke 19:41-44.
    Jesus' lament for Jerusalem, analyzed above in "Lament for Jerusalem", is his prediction of the hard times that will befall Jerusalem because of their stubbornness and refusal to accept peace (Jesus).
  11. How did St. Peter advise early Christians to behave so as to glorify God on the day of visitation?
    In 1 Peter 2:11-12, Peter urges us to avoid worldly desires that cause us to be alienated from divine aspirations, and to do good works despite your enemies.
  12. What does Jesus' entry into Jerusalem show?
    CCC 560 tells us that Jesus' entry into Jerusalem manifested the coming of the kingdom that the King-Messiah was going to accomplish by the Passover of his Death and Resurrection. It signalled the beginning of the Passion, and appeased the populace's desire for the kingly Messiah.
  13. How did the crowds interpret Jesus' entry into Jerusalem?
    In Matthew 21:10-11, it is written that the whole city asked "Who is this?" and that crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth of Galilee." The "whole city" might refer to the Pharisees and chief priests and scribes, who would clearly be wary of the crowds suddenly clinging to Jesus, who they felt was an upstart and a menace. The crowds do not reply with the zeal of Peter, who identified Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah, but instead call Jesus a prophet, and recognize him as the same Jesus of Nazareth.
  14. Compare and contrast Matthew 21:12-14, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-17.
    These are the four accounts of Jesus driving out the money-changers in the temple.

    Matthew's account has Jesus quoting Isaiah 56:7, my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples; he follows with a quote from Jeremiah 7:11 (about the temple becoming a "den of thieves")which Matthew does not attribute as such. Afterwards, Jesus cures blind and lame people in the temple.

    Mark's account is similar to Matthew's, but adds three particular elements: first, he writes that Jesus did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area; second, he includes ... for all peoples at the end of the Isaiah quote; third, he notes the intention of the priests and scribes when they see what Jesus did.

    Luke has Jesus quoting both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, and also notes the intentions of the priests and scribes.

    John's account, which occurs at a different point in time, has Jesus saying "stop making my Father's house a marketplace" (John 2:16). John writes that the disciples later recalled Psalm 69:10: zeal for your house consumes me.

  15. Why did Jesus react so violently to the money-changers?
    John's account refers to Psalm 69:10: Zeal for your house consumes me. Christ's zeal for the house of God causes him to violently throw out the money-changers and other people doing business in the holy temple. The entirety of Psalm 69, which is subtitled "of David", is appropriate for Jesus' position, and Psalm 69:5 reads More numerous than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause. Too many for my strength are my treacherous enemies. Must I now restore what I did not steal? The end of that verse explains exactly what Christ's mission is: to restore that which he did not steal. Mankind has wronged by their sin, and Christ must restore them to grace through his selfless sacrifice, dying in their place for their sin, and being resurrected, conquering death.
  16. What do the passages Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 relate?
    These are referred to by Jesus when he drives out the money-changers from the temple. They describe the purpose of God's temple (to be a house of prayer) and the corruption of the temple by the people of Jerusalem (it has become a den of thieves).
  17. How did people respond to Jesus' words in Luke 19:48?
    Luke says the people were hanging on his words; they were marvelled at his words and actions in the temple, despite the violence and temper Jesus showed.
  18. Why should someone cling to God's Word according to Psalm 119:11, 33-34, 103-105, 114?
    Psalm 119's author speaks of keeping God's commands and endeavoring not to sin against Him, of learning God's laws and abiding by them. God's Word is sweeter than honey to my mouth[,] a lamp for my feet, [and] a light for my path: God is our refuge.
  19. How can Catholics make the Bible come alive for them?
    CCC 108 reminds us that Christianity is based on the Word of God, which is not a written and mute word, but [...] incarnate and living. It is important for us to open our minds to the Scriptures, and to live according to its mission.
  20. Nobody should experience the wrath of God like the money-changers did. The sacrament of Reconciliation enables Catholics to ensure that the temple of the Holy Spirit remains pure (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). What is essential to this sacrament?
    CCC 1424 reminds us that the sacrament of Reconciliation is a confession of sins to God through a priest; this admittal of sin is essential to the sacrament. Through it, God grants us pardon and peace.

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