Why Didn’t Jesus Ride a Horse?

“The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!’

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.'” (John 12:12-15, NRSV)

On Palm Sunday over 2,000 years ago, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to a king’s welcome.

It was Passover week and Jerusalem was alive with activity. It was believed that Jerusalem’s population was around 35,000 to 40,000 people, but during Passover there would be over 200,000 people in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was under Roman occupation. Caesar was the boss, Rome was in charge, and everyone knew it.
With such a large crowd of Jewish pilgrims gathered in one place, it was possible that a revolt or rebellion against Rome could take place. It was a chance Rome couldn’t take.

Enter Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. You might think his quarters would be in Jerusalem, but he actually lived and governed from a place called Caesarea Maritima, west of the city on the Mediterranean Sea.

Pilate, like Jesus, entered the city on Palm Sunday, and he would have ridden into the city on a horse. And along with him would be his chariots and horses and his weapons of war, and his army of Roman soldiers. They would have marched into the city through the West Gate and they would have travelled throughout the city.

It was a military parade. A show of force. It was Rome saying to the people in Jerusalem for the Passover festival that if they were thinking of revolting against Rome, they had better think again. Rome was ready to unleash it’s force against them and they would be squashed. Pilate, riding into town on a horse, would have struck fear into the people.

Lodging in Bethany, Jesus would have entered the city of Jerusalem from the East. But, he doesn’t ride into town on a war horse. Rather he finds a donkey, mounts it, and enters the city from the Mount of Olives.

Pilate and Jesus represent two very different entrances into the city. Pilate comes in power…Jesus comes in humility.

Which is the greater power? Power that comes through force? Or power that comes through humility?

The crowds waiting at the eastern entrance of the city, hearing that Jesus is coming, believing that he indeed may be the one to finally deliver them from oppression, start waving palm branches, a symbol of victory, and they start shouting, over and over again, “Hosanna! (Save us!) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel.”

Jesus comes from Bethany, tops the Mount of Olives overlooking the city, and as they crowds along the road from the Mount of Olives into the city cheer their King, Jesus goes and grabs a horse and mounts it, and waving his sword in the air…

No, he didn’t, did he? “Jesus found a young donkey, and sat on it.” (John 12:14, NRSV)

Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. He is not a fierce, conquering hero. He is not an oppressive King. Jesus is coming to Jerusalem for a battle, but it will not be fought the traditional way with weapons and force.

Rather, Jesus will conquer by the way of peace, self-sacrifice, forgiveness and love.

Pilate is looking for a fight. Maybe even the people are looking for a fight.

Jesus is looking to show that there is a way other than violence to attain peace. Pilate rides a war horse to strike fear into the people; Jesus rides a young donkey to offer hope and peace to the world.

“He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:10, NRSV)

In Jesus, a new Kingdom has come. A Kingdom characterized by humility, peace, and love.

So, while we continue to spend money to feed the military/industrial complex, while we see nations marching in Pilate’s parade, the church is called to a higher place. It will be risky, but the church must join Jesus’ parade, offering the poetic word of Isaiah:

“In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:1-4, NRSV)

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

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