Many of us celebrated Palm Sunday yesterday, the day Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover. At mass, it is common to read the Gospel staring with the last supper through Jesus’ burial. The passage about his entry is filled with hidden meaning that maybe not all of us know.
First, when you look at a map of Israel, you would be correct to assume that the most direct route between Galilee and Jerusalem would be to walk southwesterly, and approach the city from the north. In fact, according to a few estimates on the internet, this route, the one through Samaria, was at least one day faster than the other route, the route most chosen by the Jews because of the hostile relationship between these two peoples. This other route went due south along the Jordan, then west through Bethany, the Mount of Olives, and approached the city of Jerusalem from the east.
Which route did Jesus take? While there is evidence in stories like the woman at the well that he travelled at least once through Samaria, but for this final Passover, the Bible is very clear that Jesus came through the Mount of Olives. So, instead of entering from the north, Jesus would have come in from the east. This is important because in Ezekiel 10:19, God’s glory is seen leaving Jerusalem through the eastern gate. So, it should be little surprise that God would return to Jerusalem through the same gate. Add to this that Ezekiel prophecies that God would return through the eastern gate. Ez 44:1-3.
How many were traveling with Jesus? How many participated in this triumphal entry? I do not know, but a lot. This journey was taken simultaneously by all Jews living northeast of Jerusalem who wanted to avoid Samaria while heading to Jerusalem for this mandatory feast. One estimate on the internet is that there were roughly 400,000 people living in Galilee around the time of Jesus. Not all were Jews, not all Jews were able to travel, and some might have opted for the Samarian route. We have no clue how accurate this estimate is, but we know that Galilee was a very fertile region, and with these facts, we can imagine a large throng of people traveling with Jesus.
During this trip, Jesus worked miracles and preached to the people. Just flip through Luke 9-19 to see all that he did on this journey. Imagine the throng of people walking with him, witnessing his work, and then imagine what they were likely thinking as they approached the eastern gate that day.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit imagining yourself approaching the eastern gate with the throng. Imagine how the experience of traveling for 4-6 days down the southern route to Jerusalem would have impacted you. Imagine yourself grasping the mystery that Jesus is the Messiah, and how you might have reacted. As he climbs upon the donkey, allow Zechariah 9:9 come to mind, “your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Spend some time interacting with these people, with Jesus, and imagine the joy of knowing your God has come home.