There’s the savior we want.
And there’s the savior we get.
Are they the same?
John gives us the shortest, simplest version of the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the end of his earthly ministry. While he leaves out much that is included in the other gospels, he adds other details: the fact that the branches mentioned in the other versions were palm branches, or the honest admission that the disciples didn’t understand what was happening. It only made sense to them in hindsight (John 12:16).
As suggested in the previous post, however, I think John’s most important contribution is the context. He tells the story of Palm Sunday within the larger framework of the controversy over the identity of Jesus. The conflict between Jesus and his opponents has been growing throughout the gospel and has come to a head with the raising of Lazarus, a miracle so stupendous that the Pharisees complained that “the whole world” had begun following Jesus (vs. 19, CEB).
On the basis of this scene, if we didn’t already know the ending of the story, we’d probably write a different one: Jesus claims his rightful place as king, uses his superpowers, and ousts the emperor and his minions!
Anyone paying close enough attention should have known that the story wouldn’t end that way. But who pays attention to what God wants when we think we’re laser-focused on what we want?
Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden. John reminds us that this was in fulfilment of ancient prophecy: Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion. Look! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt (vs. 15, CEB; cf. Zech 9:9). It’s a symbol of humility, not war, unlike the conquerors who would parade through a captured city riding a snorting, stamping warhorse, or marching at the head of his army with prisoners in tow.
Jesus knew who he was and what his Father had called him to do, and planned this messianic sign in advance. Surely there were people in the crowd who recognized it. And given the feverish buzz over the raising of Lazarus, there were already many who were ready and willing to believe that he was their Messiah and king.
But on their terms, not God’s.
Again, who’s paying attention? Hadn’t Jesus just said the day before that Mary was anointing him with perfume in preparation for his burial? Did anyone from Bethany understand that Jesus was intentionally heading to his death? Did the disciples? They knew it was dangerous, and they were afraid. But the shouts of Hosanna! and the enthusiasm of the crowd… Did they dare to think what everyone else seemed to be thinking?
In just a few days, everyone who hailed Jesus as king would be profoundly disappointed. They got the savior they needed, but not the one they wanted.
Are we disappointed in God?