Matthew 21:5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
The Jews of Jesus’ day had been hearing about a coming messiah for generations. Gathered around the dinner table, at the synagogue, in casual conversation, they discussed when, who, and how he would arrive. There were many schools of thought, but the prevailing opinion was that he would be a great warrior-king in the tradition of David and that he would lead an army of God’s chosen people to take back what the Roman Empire had stolen and would restore Israel to her rightful position in the world. They were looking for a military leader, a charismatic insurrectionist, a Moses to lead the captive Israel out and into the promised land. Instead, they got Jesus.
This scene in Matthew’s gospel illustrates perfectly the disconnect between the expectations and the reality of messiah’s arrival. Jesus had made a name for himself as a prophet, a healer, a revolutionary of sorts, and they had begun to call him King of the Jews (much to the chagrin of both the religious and political authorities). So, as king, when Jesus makes his triumphal entry in what will undoubtedly be his capital city, he obviously sits astride a mighty war horse worthy of any Caesar in Rome’s storied history, right? Not quite. In fact, not at all. Instead of a war horse, Jesus makes his triumphal entry on a donkey. Not only that, but a baby donkey at that. Kind of underwhelming, right? Doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of the empire nor inspire confidence in the coming war. And that’s the point.
In this one act, perhaps more vividly than any other, Jesus demonstrates that he will be nothing like the messiah most of the Jews were expecting. They wanted him to wage war; instead, Jesus came to bring peace. They wanted him to restore Israel to her rightful place as God’s special people; instead, Jesus came to extend that invitation to every man, woman, and child on planet earth. They wanted retribution and revenge for the wrongs done to them; instead, Jesus came with forgiveness, healing, and restoration for all. They imagined him arriving in Jerusalem atop Bucephalus; instead, Jesus rode in on Eyeore.
Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time simply missed it. They were so focused on how they imagined the Christ that they missed the actual Christ. They were so hung up on restoring their own position and status in the world that they forgot they were called to be a light to the world. They were so consumed by thoughts of revenge and retribution that they failed to see the offering of forgiveness right in front of them. May we not make the same mistake.