THE ACCOUNT OF JESUS' entry into Jerusalem before His Passion is told in each of the four gospels. The details differ, but this shouldn't disturb us as the gospel writers aren't trying to give us newspaper reports. Rather, they are sharing the underneath message: who Jesus is; what Jesus is doing.
There are long debates online as to whether Jesus rode one or two donkeys. It's hard to see how this kind of complicated and tedious argument helps us to know Jesus better. In the early 1970's Leonard Bernstein composed The Mass. After the "Kyrie" a single voice, accompanied by guitar is heard:
Make it up as you go along
Sing like you like to Sing
God loves all simple things
And love is the simplest of all."
It is foretold in the Book of the Prophet Zechariah (9:9) that Zion's future king would ride upon the little animal of peace. But perhaps the reference is also to the ass as a work animal, the beast of burden, as Jesus is now the sin-carrier. The crowd is looking for a politician; they don't understand. But perhaps you and I do, inviting Jesus to enter my inner place, come to usher in a new era of personal reconciliation, hope, joy and justice (as the new pope has stressed).
There's nothing in the gospels that tells us that it was children who climbed the trees, cut the branches and laid their cloaks on the ground, but the crowd. It's the hymns of the Church that reference children.
All glory, laud and honor
To you, Redeemer, King!
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
(Passiontide Hymn: All Glory, Laud and Honor)
Or on Palm Sunday, Eastern Christians sing:
Sitting on your throne in heaven
Carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God
Accept the praise of angels and the songs of children who sing:
Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam!
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus enjoins us: "And he said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven'." (NIV 2011) What's the point?
- Children seem to have a trusting nature.
- Children tend to believe in what's unseen.
- Children are teachable (that's what humility is).
- Children don't mind being seen as needy; they even relish being carried.
- Children have an ability to accept others and look beyond differences.
- Children come without pretensions, masks, ambition, accomplishments or power claims.
- Children live in the present.
- Children can be irrepressibly joyful.
Be like that with God, Jesus teaches. But children can also be messy. Many people, maybe especially religious people, have to stop thinking that God insists or expects we be all fixed up before approaching Him: that we have the perfect prayer, the right doctrine, the required posture or disposition, being in some kind of inner state of worthiness. I'm thinking too of pious people who speak in affected tones. The lyrics to Charlotte Elliott's hymn Just As I Am, Without One Plea, correct that thinking.
Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
In this icon for Palm Sunday, the children are very involved. They have climbed the tree and are spreading their coats on the ground. One upfront mom even holds an infant who happily waves a little palm branch in welcoming Jesus. As we ponder the icon we might consider also the Jesus-injunction to change and become like little children, and then see what we can do.