Many of the people spread their cloaks on the road, while some strewed boughs which they had cut from the fields;
a parade well begun
slows as people crowd around
though not a million-person march
the intensity is heightened
trees and fields are ransacked
sabbath best is offered
passion goes beyond tearing clothes
to commitment of whole garments
to place a cloak is to place a bet
Jesus will come into our kingdom
Cloaks (ta himatia), like garments and clothing in general, are very significant throughout Mark’s Gospel. As we have seen over and over, their meaning comes from the one who wears them. They express someone’s identity and are a symbol of the person. In the Bible, as in so many cultures still today, clothing is a proper symbol, just as someone’s name is a proper word. ~LaVerdiere147
Cultural motifs do not travel well. A gesture in one land can mean something quite the opposite in another. A “thumbs-up” sign can mean everything is alright in one place and be the equivalent of a middle-finger expression of disgust at all you are. Clothes on the ground to be walked over by a colt is one of those signs that is best not given too much attention. In many African settings honor is given by cleaning the way, not littering it.
Even biblically this carries a different weight if we look at when Jehu became king (2 Kings 9:13). Jehu is honored and goes on to rule through violence and eventually die. This is different than the suffer, be put to death, and resurrection Jesus sees. Jesus has given no sign of coming under a sign of peace (a dove of belovedness) and doing a bait-and-switch into being a hanging judge.
Alfred Marshall’s literal translation of the second part of this verse is: “and others wisps of twigs, cutting out of the fields”. Wright147 reminds us that Mark “doesn’t say the people waved palm branches; the word for what they cut from the fields could just as easily mean corn or straw, or leafy branches cut from trees.” The focus is more on the fields than it is what is gleaned from them.
There is a secondary meaning of the action we have come to associate with palm branches and that is the treading of twigs and other plant material into the equivalent of mattresses. The crowd is literally smoothing and softening the way.