On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was the height of his popularity, occurring only days before his betrayal and execution. He was joyfully welcomed by the common people who heralded him as the coming King and Savior of the world.
The most oft-celebrated feature of the Triumphal Entry is the waving of the palms. A symbol of royal welcome, palm branches demonstrated the people’s support of their monarch.
Only in the Gospel of Luke are there no palm branches mentioned.
It’s easy to speculate. Luke was a Greek doctor, a wealthy Gentile who had come to faith in Christ later in life. His gospel was written with a special emphasis on the status of women and the elevation of the poor. Luke understood that Jesus treated women differently than anyone else, and he admired Christ for that. He wanted to highlight this aspect of Jesus’ ministry and personality to his Greek audience so they too could understand just how fantastically different was Christ’s message and example. Luke was also deeply affected by Christ’s downward mobility. Here he was, Incarnate King of the World and of all Time, yet he spent his time as a homeless tradesman, wandering and teaching among the disenfranchised.
Furthermore, Luke wanted his audience to recognize that the poor loved and welcomed Jesus in a way they could never have loved and welcomed Caesar. When Caesar came into town, people greeted him with singing and flowers and celebration. But much of their celebration was state-sponsored partying. The Romans pre-arranged for Caesar to receive an appropriate welcome and the event was largely staged at little personal cost for citizens. In contrast, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the poor spontaneously tossed their cloaks—something terribly precious to them, a covering and a shelter from the weather—and joyously received Christ. No one would have chosen to give up the thing that kept them warm and safe and dry to welcome Caesar, but they gladly gave up their cloaks for Christ. This was not staged. This was an outpouring of gratitude and happiness and anticipation that everything for which they had ever hoped was now about to come true.
Jesus spent his time among the poor, and they loved him for it.
That’s what Luke wants his audience to see: the way of Jesus, the way of downward mobility, is that the last shall be first. The greatest shall be the servant. Whoever denies himself will be elevated.
Everything about Jesus’ manner and message was contrary to the Roman way, just as it is contrary to the American way. Our culture today is a culture of abundance, and we too must learn to praise the King who comes in lowliness.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.