We had no idea: Red Letter Year 11/25

12 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem. Look, your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt.”

16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him — because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”


This is the fourth time this year we’ve read this story, yet John adds some insights we haven’t gotten before. He glosses over the mission to find a donkey, which serves as a nice lead into his first insight – the disciples had no idea what this was about. Sending disciples to find a donkey conveys intentionality on Jesus’ part. This doesn’t contradict that, but it does help us see that from the disciples’ perspective at the time, this seemed random and perhaps pointless. It’s like John is saying: “We were headed into Jerusalem, then a donkey was just sort of there, then Jesus was riding it, people turned up, and it got weird.” 

John also helps us with the people turning up, which needs more explanation than we probably realize. We are so used to this story that we can’t be surprised by this strange turn. Think about it – a guy riding on a donkey into a big city in the ancient world – why would a crowd show up? How would they even know to show up? The other three Gospels don’t tell us about the raising of Lazarus or about those who saw that as the reason all these people show up to cheer on the holy donkey ride. One thing we can take away from this is just how hard it is for us to look at these stories with fresh eyes. We have to give careful thought and actively apply our imagination to interact with the text well. Reading the Bible is no easy task or one we should ever take lightly.

I made the point Friday that the Twelve didn’t know what was going on. Here we see John specifically making that point. He goes out of his way to let us know that Mary got it while the Twelve did not; that these new witnesses were the ones spreading the good news about Jesus. As one of the Twelve, likely the only one still alive when he wrote this, John’s disclosure is more than self-effacing. It is corrective and empowering, just the sort of move those with privilege and power can make to give these away. John was undoubtedly a hero of the early church. This is his way of resisting that.

It is also very telling about what it means to follow Jesus. We aren’t always going to know what’s going on. And that is okay. Sometimes other people will get it, especially people we tend to marginalize. If we can learn to trust them and let them lead, that will help. Sometimes it will make sense later. Having it all figured out is not required for following. And it is important that we learn to tell the truth, about ourselves and to ourselves, well enough so we can remember what actually happened, remember when we didn’t get it but followed anyway – worshipped anyway – and it worked out. We will be tempted to narrate our stories in ways that make it seem like we knew more than we did, were more in control than we were, were more heroic than was the case. We have to resist those temptations as John did, because those who come after us need to know the truth: that we had no idea what we were doing, but the Holy Spirit did and that was more than enough.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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