Palm Sunday - Year A
WHY DID THE CROWD CHOOSE BARABBAS?
Pontius Pilate tried to avoid trouble at Jesus' trial. He was not sympathetic, but being a politician wanted to offend the fewest number. He must have known Jesus' popularity. To save face he offered a choice of Jesus or a recently-arrested brigand. The name "Barabbas" (bar abba) means "son of the father" and was commonly used for illegitimate children. There is an irony in that Jesus is the true Son of the ultimate Father. Brigands were more than simple thieves. They were often considered folk heroes, sort of like Robin Hood or Bonnie and Clyde. Brigands attacked the rich, which made them popular with the poor.
Pilate's ploy to free Jesus failed because of Barabbas' popularity and the pressure of the religious and political leaders. Jesus' arrest had been done secretly, before many of his followers had time to gather. Barabbas apparently did have time to marshal his friends and won the day.
DID JESUS RIDE TWO ANIMALS?
Jesus wanted to make a public statement of his role as Messiah. He knew that this would provoke the Jerusalem leaders and force a response. He accomplished this by a triumphant procession from Bethesda, a small village on the east slope of the mount of Olives. Matthew's gospel interprets this as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9--"Your king... is coming to you on a donkey; he comes on the colt of a donkey." The prophet was using poetry to describe the event. Hebrew poetry usually repeats thoughts using different words. It rhymes thoughts instead of sounds. Hence, the repetition of "donkey" and "colt" are meant only to convey the humility of the king. An ambitious king would ride a horse, not a donkey.
The author of Matthew's gospel misinterprets this. He describes a somewhat bizarre scene of Jesus riding on two different animals at the same time. Clearly, this would be impossible. The road is steep, so the crowd provides footing for the donkey by throwing branches and cloaks on the dirt path.
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