Text Study for Palm/Passion Sunday 2022 (Part Two)

“It is Luke alone among the evangelists,” Brent Kinman writes, “who makes explicit the connection between the entry and God’s judgment on the city” (page 280). The emotional tone of our scene turns almost immediately from joy to lament. The scene of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem “is an important counterpart to the triumphal march, and a correction to an overly simplistic interpretation of it,” Gonzalez argues. “And probably,” he adds parenthetically, “should be included in our Palm Sunday readings, so as to avoid many a triumphalistic celebration of that day” (Kindle Location 4263).

What does lament say about the joyous procession preceding? “What could account for Jesus’ unanticipated response to the situation,” Kinman asks, “and the tone of finality that characterizes it?” Kinman observes that Jesus has faced Pharisaic opposition and criticism before in Luke and did not offer such words of definitive judgment and destruction. Jesus’ remarks here in vv. 41-44, according to Kinman, “seem all out of proportion to the offense” (page 280).

Chester Midsummer Watch Parade 2017 by Jeff Buck is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Kinman argues that the tepid response Jesus gets from the citizens of Jerusalem is “an appalling insult, which in turn explains his remarks about the coming destruction of the city.” He compares Jesus’ entry to Greco-Roman triumphs to make his case. The Lukan author’s Greco-Roman audience (whether Jew or Gentile) would have been familiar with both the large contours and the small details of such triumphs and would have been able to make detailed comparisons between those triumphs and the reception Jesus received.

Such triumphal processions took place when a royal figure came for a “visitation” to a local region or city. “At the approach of the dignitary,” Kinman writes, “a band of municipal officials and other citizens, including the social, religious, and political elite, would proceed some distance from the city in order to meet the celebrity well in advance of the city walls” (page 281). Precisely that sort of reception was offered to Alexander the Great some three centuries before the time of Jesus, as the conqueror came to Jerusalem and offered sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple.

“Once the dignitary had been met by a delegation from the city,” Kinman continues, “speeches of welcome would be given by select members of the delegation” (page 281). These speeches, by convention and tradition, declared that it was impossible to give the visitor sufficient honor, glory, and praise. Further speeches extolled the character, nobility, and great accomplishments of the visitor.

Depending on the status of the visitor, these speeches could take hours. In conclusion, someone noted how fortunate the city was to have such a visit. Then the whole entourage would escort the visitor into the city. The triumphal procession “was frequently brought to an end by the visit of the guest to the local temple” (page 283).

But what if the triumphal welcome and greetings were not forthcoming? “Examples of a city’s failure to welcome its distinguished guests are rare,” Kinman observes, “and with good reason. A city’s failure to render the customary regard could have grave consequences and thus was to be avoided” (page 283). We can begin to hear echoes of the preceding parable, especially the public slaughter promised in Luke 19:27. Punishments for a failure to welcome might include such military responses as well as economic and political retribution for both leaders and citizens.

Kinman summarizes the normal or typical features of such a royal visitation. The welcome was given to kings or other ruling figures. The welcome was extended outside the city walls and before the visitor entered the city. The city elites and other dignitaries would meet the visitor and escort the visitor back into the city. The citizens who accompanied the delegation and those who lined the streets for the triumph would wear special clothing and accessories. And the visitor would be celebrated in speeches, songs, and accolades, especially expressing gratitude for the privilege of such a visitation (page 284).

How does this list compare, Kinman asks, with the Lukan “triumphal entry”? He wants to establish two things as he develops his argument: “the regal nature of Jesus’ coming and the awareness of it that Jerusalem ought to have had” (page 284). The regal nature of Jesus’ coming is clearly emphasized in the Lukan account. A simple example is the insertion of the word “king” in the Psalm quotation in Luke 19:38 (page 288).

The Lukan author portrays Jesus as the “Son of David” from the beginning to the end of the gospel account. The Parable of the Pounds is about a man who goes to receive regal power. If Jesus is in some complicated sense “the nobleman” in that parable, then the consequences of a failure to welcome become painfully clear. The context of the triumphal entry, Kinman argues, makes the reader aware that this is about welcoming a king (page 286).

Kinman goes on to identify specific features that describe Jesus as a coming king. There is the colt which had never been ridden, which takes us Zechariah 9:9. Such a colt would have been dedicated for royal purposes and commandeered as such. Levine and Witherington note that the mention of the Mount of Olives takes us to Zechariah 14:4 and the location from which the messianic and eschatological battle will be launched (page 518).

Jesus’ words about the Lord having need of the colt enhance this sense that the king has commandeered the needed transportation. It is, Kinman notes, “an official requisition formula” (page 287). The way the disciples place Jesus on the colt would remind people of King Solomon in 1 Kings 1:33. The fact that the disciples place garments under Jesus on the colt and then on the road in front of him might remind people of Jehu’s triumphal procession in 2 Kings 9:13. “This is not to suggest that Luke found Jehu a good model for Jesus,” Kinman notes, “rather, that the disciples are seen to act in a way that reinforces the royal imagery in the preparation for Jesus’ visit” (page 288).

In the Lukan account, everyone has heard of Jesus – even Herod Antipas. Jesus has been met by great crowds in other locations. Kinman sums up the royal triumph features of Jesus’ entry under several heads. Jesus accepts the label of “son of David.” He embodies to some degree the returning nobleman in the preceding parable. He royally commandeers transportation and requires a dedicated animal. The garments are for a king, and the disciples then address him as such.

“From other comments in the Gospel,” Kinman concludes, “we infer that those in Jerusalem, including its citizens and leaders, could hardly have been unaware of the reports about Jesus or his approach to the city” (page 289). All signs point to the necessity of a royal welcome for the coming King (at least in the Lukan account). The question, then is, what sort of greeting does Jesus receive?

As we have noted, the Lukan author is the only gospel composer who includes the scene of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. In that lament, Jesus notes that Jerusalem suffers from two failures of recognition. Jerusalem does not recognize on that day the things that make for peace (verse 42). And Jerusalem does not recognize the time of the king’s visitation (verse 44). “The point here is a simple one,” Kinman writes, “it is in Luke and Luke alone that Jesus explicitly links the events of his arrival to God’s coming judgment on the city” (page 290).

We come, then, to Kinman’s conclusion about the failure to welcome. “Set against the background of celebratory greeting in the ancient world,” he argues, “Jerusalem’s response to Jesus must be regarded as an appalling insult” (page 290). He notes three specific areas of this failure. The Lukan crowd seems to be limited to Jesus’ disciples – probably not a large group.

The resistance of some of the Pharisees is a second feature. “They find their literary counterparts,” write Levine and Witherington, “in the parable’s description of the citizens who rejected the nobleman’s rule” (page 520). Their concern may have been justified, Levine and Witherington note, given previous Roman responses to potential Passover uprisings. “If the Pharisees’ response to Jesus is prefigured in the parable,” Kinman writes, “then Luke’s Jesus has anticipated Jerusalem’s rejection in the parable he tells just before coming to the city” (page 291).

Most telling is a group conspicuous by their absence, Kinman argues – Jerusalem’s religious and social elite. These groups are all listed in Luke 19:47 as opposed to Jesus. Jesus comes as king in the name of the Lord (Luke 19:38). “The implications of this are obvious,” Kinman observes, “to the extent that the city welcomes Jesus, it welcomes the Lord; if it rejects Jesus, it in effect also rejects God and invites the consequences of such an act. These consequences are spelled out,” Kinman notes, “in Luke 19:41-44” (page 293).

“Although he is the king,” Kinman concludes, “he is not received as one by Jerusalem. Jesus’ entry is ‘a-triumphal’” (page 294).

It is too easy to use this argument to make subtle and not-so-subtle anti-Jewish claims. However, the homiletical issue is not, as Amy-Jill Levine would say, to make Jesus look good by making Jews look bad. If Jesus is not the kind of king we are expecting, will we find the vision to welcome him on his terms rather than ours?

Resources and References

Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Kindle Edition.

Gonzalez, Justo L. Luke: Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Kinman, Brent. “Parousia, Jesus’ ‘A-Triumphal’ Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44).” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 2 (1999): 279–94. https://doi.org/10.2307/3268007.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Luke (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press, 2018.

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