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Robert Farrar Capon on Advent 1 – Matthew 21:1-9

by pastorjuhl ~ November 27th, 2012

The mystery that Jesus is sacramentalizing by riding triumphally into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey is his parousia, his coming as a king in peace and as a judge in vindication. Had he been coming as a king to make war, or as a judge to settle scores, he would presumably have come on horseback to signify such aggressive intentions. But even though he made his peaceable disposition clear – even though (as Matthew points out) his choice of a donkey was a fulfillment of the irenic prophecy, “Tell the daughter of Zion: Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass” (Matthew 21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9) – the sacramental significance of his action was lost on the crowd that acclaimed him. Expecting only an interventionist, plausible Messiah, they hailed him only as such – only as one who would, then and there and by right-handed power, bring in “the kingdom of our father David that is coming” (Mark 11:10). Nevertheless, as Jesus rides into the city, there is one thing and one thing only uppermost in his mind; namely, his left-handed, implausible death. And he knows in his bones, even if he does not yet realize it in his mind, that this same crowd will paradoxically provide him with the messianic death they refuse even to think about now: on Good Friday, precisely because he will have given them no sustained evidence of right-handed intervention on his part, they will be the very ones who cry, “Crucify him!”

The Triumphal Entry, therefore, is a parable of both grace and judgment. It is a parable of judgment that descends only on the refusal of grace; and it is a parable of the grace that remains forever sovereign over judgment. For if the peaceable manner of his entry into a city at war with his methods is a judgment on their unwillingness to accept a dying/rising Messiah, so it is also (by being a voluntary going to his death) a proclamation of the grace that will absolve even their non-acceptance of him on the cross: “Father, forgive them” will be his last word on the subject. The iceberg, if you will, will thrust up above the surface of history on Good Friday as well as on Palm Sunday and proclaim for all time the way God perennially works.

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 433-434

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