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Matthew 21:1-11

Triumphal Entry vs. Royal Entry

Many of our Bibles today place a heading over this passage as “the triumphal entry.” This heading is somewhat misleading. A more accurate heading would be “the royal entry.”

A triumphal entry took place when a king had conquered a people or a city. Upon the victory, the king would lead a victory parade, perhaps through the conquered city or in return to the royal city, in which those the king conquered were forced to march behind the king and his victorious army as defeated, humiliated captives. The king grew in honor and the defeated sunk in shame. Typically the king would ride upon a war horse used in battle. Paul uses this imagery in ironic fashion in 2 Corinthians 2:14 where Paul is thankful, maybe even boastful, that he is led by Christ in triumphal procession, that is, he is one who has been conquered by Christ and is now a prisoner of Christ, being paraded by Christ.

A royal entry is very different. Its setting is of a king coming to take his throne. Perhaps the best example of this is Solomon’s procession to the throne found in 1 Kings 1:32-40. There David has Solomon placed upon his mule (offspring of a male donkey and female horse) and he is escorted to the throne amidst trumpets, flutes, and great rejoicing. Solomon enters as the new king ready to assume his throne rather than as a triumphant king returning from battle.

Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem upon a donkey (or two donkeys) is more like Solomon’s entrance than a triumphal entrance. In many ways Jesus’ battle is still in front of him. Triumph does not actually come until the victories of Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the grave.

I suppose we could keep the title “triumphant entry” as long as we understand it prophetically – that the triumph is about to take place. But it seems a better fit to understand the event as a royal entry – a king entering to receive his kingdom.

Recognition vs. Understanding

From the two blind men of Matthew 9:27 calling Jesus “Son of David” to the Canaanite woman who calls Jesus “Son of David” (15:22) to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (16:16) to the Transfiguration (17:1) to the request of the mother of Zebedee’s sons to have her sons James and John sit at Jesus’ right and left (19:20) to the two blind men calling out, “Son of David” (19:31), to the praise of the crowd upon Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, there is a growing awareness that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah King. Everyone is beginning to recognize that Jesus is the coming King. True, Jewish leadership resists and refuses to recognize Jesus as King, but the disciples and the crowds are becoming more and more certain.

But while there is growing and deepening recognition that Jesus is the Messiah King, there is also a vast and deep lack of understanding regarding both the character/culture of Jesus’ kingdom and how Jesus will bring about his kingdom. Jesus has been trying to teach his disciples that his kingdom comes through his suffering, through his going to the cross (16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19). The disciples just don’t get this. In their minds (and everyone else’s) there is no way the Messiah is supposed to die. The disciples see that Jesus is the Messiah but they are blind to his kingdom coming via his cross.

The disciples are also blind to the character/culture of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus emphasizes that to be great in his kingdom one must become a servant of all, that one must be humble like a child, that one must practice forgiveness over and over, that one must give wealth away, and that one must actually take up their cross and follow him. Nowhere is this lack of understanding more evident than in the request to sit at Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom. James and John and their mother assume that Jesus’ kingdom will be like any other kingdom of this world where power is used for personal gain. They believe that God is with Jesus to put Jesus on top of the world and they want to be on top of the world right next to Jesus. It’s as if they want to use their close relationship to Jesus to get as high up as they can get in his new kingdom. They are absolutely blind to the servant culture of Jesus’ kingdom and the humility that is required.

It is easy for us to spot the foolishness of the disciples, but how often is that us!? We, like they, recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, and we, just like they, are blind to the culture of Jesus’ kingdom. Rather than denying self and taking up cross to follow Jesus, we attempt to use Jesus to make better lives for ourselves. We rarely pray for Jesus to help us imitate his humility. More often we pray for Jesus to help us get somewhere, to be successful, to achieve greater things and gain more status. We recognize but we do not understand.

The Terrible Twos of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew, in comparison to Mark and Luke, is known for having a number of parallel stories where Matthew has two characters while Mark and Luke have only one. This is quite puzzling.

In Mt. 8:28 we find Jesus casting unclean spirits out of two demon-possessed men. This is the story where the demons are cast into the pigs and the pigs drown themselves. In Mark and Luke there is only one demon-possessed man.

In Mt. 9:27 two blind men are following Jesus and calling out, “Son of David, have mercy on us.” This story is somewhat unique to Matthew but a case can be made that it is Matthew’s version of the one blind man being healed in Mark 8:22-26. Luke has no parallel to this story.

In Mt. 20:29-34 there are again two blind men calling out to Jesus. Mark and Luke only have one blind man.

And then there is our passage today. Matthew has two animals: a donkey and her colt. Mark, Luke, and John have only one animal: the colt.

All of these appear to be accounts of the same events rather than accounts of similar but distinct events. So the question arises, why does Matthew have two of each character? One possibility is that Matthew has two because there were two. From this vantage point, the other gospels are leaving out a character rather than Matthew doubling a character. Regarding the donkey and her colt, since Jesus rode the colt the other gospels chose to leave out the mother donkey. Personally, this is not a very satisfying response to Matthew’s doublings given that Mark tends to write with far greater detail than Matthew. Matthew generally provides a more simplified account of events.

A second response is that because Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience and because the Old Testament law requires two witnesses to substantiate an event, Matthew is doubling the characters in order to provide two witnesses. I struggle with this one, for if Matthew is fabricating a second witness to substantiate the truth telling of the first witness, he is actually undercutting the integrity of that witness. A counterfeit witness does not lend greater credibility to an authentic witness.

The best approach to Matthew’s doublings is to see them as Matthew’s effort to help his readers make connections that they (and we) otherwise might have missed. Matthew doubles characters with the goal of connecting stories so that they are interpreted in the light of each other rather than interpreted as standing alone. Matthew doubles in order to help us read contextually.

Consider 8:28, the healing of the two demoniacs who were “so violent that no one could pass that way.” The story prior to this is Jesus rebuking the winds and the waves so that there was calm on the lake. The correlation is between the winds and the waves and the two demoniacs. Jesus brings calm to the two men in the same way that he rebuked the winds and the waves. Winds and waves are beyond human control. They are symbolic of demonic chaos and Jesus performs an exorcism of them. The message is that Jesus has authority over every sphere of the demonic, from the winds to the waves to the unclean spirits that are defiling these two men.

Let’s go to 9:27, the first account of Jesus healing two blind men. In 9:28 Jesus asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They answer yes and vs.29, Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Their sight was restored. If we look at the preceding passage it is the account of the ruler’s dead daughter and the bleeding woman. J