Mark 11:9

and those who led the way, as well as those who followed, kept shouting, “God save him! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

fore and aft
the cry widens
we’ll get our own back

every where
energy expands
what matter constricted

teetering between energy & matter
substituting sound for light

we use
what’s available
continuing beyond current limits

This is the position of belovedness—hearing, “Hosanna”, from those who have gone before as the past is returned to wholeness and hearing, “Hosanna”, from those next seven generations down the way whose path is clearer as they build on this moment.

It is this picture of being a fulcrum point that attracts us to hear and experience the vision of the prophets. This is what it means to straighten crooked paths and prepare a healthier way.

The same dual perspective is found in ὡσαννά (ōsanna, Hosanna). It can be heard in Psalm 118:26 as coming from the Temple/G*D to individuals coming to offer their thanks for one deliverance or another. It can be heard here coming from individuals to one seen as arriving in the “name of the Lord” to deliver from current occupation.

Whether from an individual or “heavenly” perspective the word itself can come from an individual to mean, “Save (us/me)! or from a blessing place or person, “Hail!/Welcome!”. “Hosanna” is both a boisterous praise for a past healed and a deep prayer that a better future will arrive. This is a common place for readers to find themselves and an opportunity to willingly dive into the middle of complexity.

If the colt image can find precedence in Zechariah 9:9–10, the imagery of palms/plant waving comes from a time much more within then-living memory, 1 Maccabees 13:47–52.

Sabin-299, writes:

By using language that would remind his readers of both Zechariah’s peace-loving king and of Simon Maccabeus, Mark offers a complex picture of Jesus. Both scriptural passages converge in showing someone who took action to restore the Temple to its original state as a place of worship. Yet there is a tension between the two. As Mark develops his portrait of Jesus’ relationship to the Temple, he also continues to show this tension.

Mark 11:8

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.

Mark 11:7

Then they brought the foal to Jesus, and, when they had laid their cloaks on it, he seated himself on it.

having gone one mile out
to gather a basic resource
there is no reason not to
come an extra mile back
and add value

of course afterward
we will boast
how high he sat
regally perched atop
our humble cloak

The versification here seems to have been caught up in Mark’s breathless style as the first line (7a) would make a fine end to the plan Jesus laid out to have a symbolic vehicle of peace (contrasted with a mighty war horse) on which to enter and restore a place fallen from its heritage as a “city of peace (harmony/wholeness/health/safety)”.

7b then leads us to the next round of symbols—garments, clothes that represent people’s lives being laid down in service, suffering.

In all of this, Jesus begins the process but soon disappears from it. Of more importance than himself at this point are the symbols used.

With Bartimaeus following and symbols beginning to pile up in a theater of the absurd, whatever value a Messianic Secret might have had, it is now past.

The first to offer a sign of their life in service are the two disciples who fetched the unridden colt. Something in their adventure shifted their attention. There is another shift here from Baptizer John saying one more powerful than he would come and these disciples saying, with their clothes, that one more powerful than they had come. Somewhere in Mark’s relating Jesus’ journey there is a commitment to do more than mysteriously follow.

This action by two disciples, that will get picked up by the still affirmative crowd, asks Mark’s readers about their own turning point. What sign will commit them to also enter Jerusalem as an anti-king, a restorer of hope in whatever current Mad Max scene of gratuitous violence is still proceeding in unending flow.

After all the time of witnessing healings, feedings, calmings, teachings, and other high moments, there is something about participating that makes a difference. Whenever people go out two-by-two, a difference is made. Who is your current buddy in difference-making?

Mark 11:6

And the two disciples answered as Jesus had told them; and they allowed them to go.

imagine that
naming authority
makes différence

arguments sharpen
when beginnings
are clarified

clearing suppositions
lessens blame
gives commonality

unacknowledged desire
claims complicity
empire sabotage

This would seem to confirm that the disciples sent for an unridden animal were not of the Twelve, who tend to misinterpret what Jesus says. Like Eve and Adam, the Twelve forget exactly what was said to them and shift it, ever so slightly, in applying it to a current situation.

The Twelve would likely question this task of fetching an animal as technically outside the framework of fishing for people and proceed to modify Jesus’ instructions, ever so slightly.

In a time of resistance, the slightest bobble of a password is a major failure. It is also a time when a password can be past its “sell by” date. Repeating an out-of-date password is the same as “sibboleth”ing the up-to-date one—failure.

This can be read as an appeal to keep one’s call up-to-date. When a call goes out of date and we keep repeating it, there is trouble a-brewin’.

As in any system, the quantity and quality of feedback loops are a measure of health. In a sense, this is a confirmation of Jesus’ assessment of the situation by way of a confirmation by the people that a challenge of the current oppressive situation is needed. Releasing the colt is putting the questioners in the position of being accomplices, accessories before the fact.

These bit players reflect well the role of all later disciples. Each actor resolving to shift Macbeth’s perspective from strutting and fretting their shadowy hour within a generations-long play to steadily and trustingly living their meaning in its proceeding. Along the way there will be new tasks. As the songwriter says, “New occasions teach new duties”. This is all summed up by Henry in The Fantasticks, “Remember, Mortimer (the generic name of all disciples), there are no small actors, only small parts” and concludes with the call, “Remember me—in light!” We do our best and leave the rest to be seen, in light, in a larger context than we knew at the time.

Mark 11:5

Some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the foal?”

nothing seems to come easy
if only knots were easier to untie
we’d have already been on our way

now we’ll have to take it
from the top starting
with our instructions

while this may take time
it will be shorter than otherwise
going to community court

so we’ll play a middle game
speeding our process here
while delaying our return a bit

nothing comes easy in situ
untying is a witness
as clear as any healing

As expected the Neighborhood Watch committee is on duty and the logical response is, “Hey! What the …?”

The community not only watches out for property but character as well. Unfortunately it is not always easy to tell which members of the community are assassins of the hated Romans? How many are colluding with them because of the personal advantage that brings? How many are trusting what has been true to this point in hope of returning to glory? How many are just focusing on day-to-day survival with no larger vision?

The question: “What are you doing?” can arise from any of these perspectives, or others. This is not a question about action as much as it is about intention.

This question can be seen as a way of controlling the situation as the person who gets the first accusation in goes on to win by setting the frame of the context. Ordinary people are sensitive to this question and often second-guess themselves in light of community approval. One psycho-social condition or another will only hear this as an opportunity to tout their source of authority—“I say so” or “Jesus says so”.

This question is related to the infamous seven last words of the church (or any other institution), “We’ve never done it this way before!” When we take this story a verse at a time we allow ambiguity and possible outcomes reveal themselves. Even these seven words can have a positive spin when there is an appreciation of the role of risk in the matter of trust or faith. How will the people of the village respond to catching these two in an act of privileged use of resources?

Mark 11:4

The two disciples went, and, finding a foal tethered outside a door in the street, they untied it.

against all better judgment
and letter of the law
we’re doing what we can’t see
any reason for

just because our intentions
are purer than legal
we do what we need to do

in the process of undoing
nine-tenths of the law
possession is in the hand

Sure enough, the storyline that was set up is going to be followed through on in the next four verses. This raises a complaint about it taking so long to complete this task when so much of Mark takes place lickity-split.

Where is the sense in hurrying up the mountain to Jerusalem in no time (verse 10:52 completes the Bartimaeus event in Jericho and verse 11:1 has us entering the Jerusalem environs), only to spend seven verses (11:1–7) on the task to get a colt when walking into Jerusalem would be sufficient and “…this carefully choreographed political street theater is designed to repudiate Messianic triumphalism” [Myers145]?

Commentators bring forth various linkages to the scriptures Jesus would have known and symbolic importance of this parade which is still re-enacted in many congregations as Palm Sunday. They do so from their various perspectives that range from a literal one-to-one linkage with prior scriptures to an over-arching meta-story of the life and times of Jesus.

Here I will first claim that the two disciples sent on this mission were not of the Twelve because the task went so well. Except for being sent out two-by-two, the Twelve primarily misunderstand and fail at their assigned tasks. This understanding allows the reader to begin preparing for the final subversion and considering their part in a story that can only be trusted, never confirmed.

Next I claim contingency is a universal component of faithful living or loving life. It is helpful to have a built-in response that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice—necessity.

A third claim is that we never have the opportunity to see how much we trust a partnership with Jesus and his followers without actually getting into a situation that entails a risk of learning our part in a larger mission didn’t work. Direct action comes with no guarantee.

Mark 11:3

And, if anyone says to you ‘Why are you doing that?’, say ‘The Master wants it, and will be sure to send it back here at once.’”

what does it mean
I don’t think it means
what you think it means

right now if is not if
it is quite simply when
harms way is still harms way

a set-up is not an if
see you already have
a compromised scenario

I’ve seen you wiggle
out of problematic situations
but this doesn’t feel right

so I’m storing this if
in my hope bucket
for later review

One way of separating Jesus’ claim upon the colt from that of a Roman soldier is in the promise that the colt will be led back, none the worse for wear, when the need for it in a political theatre is completed.

Even before this promise there is a recognition that an act of untying can be favorably interpreted on its own. In a land of scarce resources during a time of occupation, even a communally-based village could easily be expected to have a privatistic concern about possessions.

It may not be the owner of the colt who notices it being untied. Wherever a challenge of the two disciples arises, they are given an encrypted password to use. This presumes an underground or resistance of some sort. Whether that is of a violent Zealot nature or the non-violent suffering of the Jesus movement can’t be told at this remove. With the same basic goal, though with different understandings and methodologies, there could be enough commonalities among those desiring to be released to have this phrase work.

It can fruitfully be asked if there are any common phrases among intersections of church and world, today, to hold them together.

There is a concern about the phrase ό κύριος (ho kurios, the Lord/master). As the only instance of this in Mark, there is a question about how to understand it. High and low Christology has some effect here on whether this is directly tied to G*D or if it is part of the Movement.

For those who have tried to be sensitive to the palin references when I have not specifically noted them, the word “back” is palin. This is also a way to think about the healing stories told in the first part of Mark— people are returned back to themselves.

Mark 11:2

“Go to the village facing you,” he said; “and, as soon as you get there, you will find a foal tethered, which no one has ever ridden; untie it, and bring it.

tasks come in many sizes
in some we can please
our selves and others
in some we can please
others but not our self
in others’ the only pleasure
is in the doing of the doing

what is yet unknown
of pleasure’s direction
is a task on the edge
of propriety
confiscating property
is problematic
in its indeterminacy

information is being gathered
who knows the area
has contacts in place
plans are being laid
regarding surveillance
timing approach
and get away

Matthew’s account of Jesus says he came on a donkey. This has colored other recountings as Mark and Luke can be read as either donkey or horse. There is still the Humane Society question of whether riding a young animal is doing harm or not, though the metaphoric weight of Jesus doing a symbolic ride may well be acceptable.

Mark’s emphasis is not upon the species of the animal but past allusions from scripture and Malina248 saying Mark’s

emphasis is on the fact that no human being has as yet sat upon and ridden the animal. Jesus, then, is seated on and rides a “sacred animal”, untamed and alien to the world of human use, consecrated to the special, extraordinary task of bearing “he who comes in the name of the Lord” to the very central place consecrated to that Lord.

Duling312 traces another meaning for this colt:

The Babylonian Talmud preserves a traditional exegesis that claims that if Israel is worthy the Messiah will come in might “upon the clouds of heaven” (that is, in fulfillment of the coming of the Son of Man in Dan 7:13; if it is not worthy he will come “lowly, and riding on a donkey” (that is, in fulfillment of Zech 9:9). Mark implies that Israel was unworthy, and so the Messiah entered Jerusalem in this way.

Whichever imagery is helpful to you, there is still the question of appropriating the animal, untying it. This sounds very much like the requisitioning a Roman soldier would do—a demand not a request.

Mark 11:1

When they had almost reached Jerusalem, as far as Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent on two of his disciples.

out of many
two are chosen
for a task

for now rejoice
we’ve been noticed
we’re ready
let’s give it our all

should one of the twelve
falter along the way
we’ll be on the short list
for associate partner

no matter how large
a task it is
we’ll see it through
and get our names in the book

This relatively small band of people (a crowd?) have just come from Jericho, just this side of the Jordan River where Baptizer John called and “all the people” of Jerusalem came to remember a past transition from slavery to release and prepare for a next transition. The people of Israel were no longer enslaved in a foreign land, Egypt, but in their promised land, Israel.

It has been a long journey but the work of John is about to be tested regarding its efficacy. Are the bands of resistance, trained in the wilderness and marked by baptism, going to be efficient and effective when called to act by one particularly affected by their experience at the evocative location of the Jordan?

Arriving in the environs of Jerusalem, close enough to be suburbs but not so close they lose their identity, a specific task is given to two disciples. Wouldn’t it be fitting if these two were James and John who had asked for special positions, were the butt of a teaching, and now have to live out what being a servant or slave means? Of course they could be a random choice of any two of the crowd of disciples, leaving the Twelve to maintain their privileged position. Whichever way it was, fishing for people and relying on the welcome of others are still bound to every specific task.

Remembering that Mark is writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, there is all the regret and expectation of Jerusalem to have been more than a historic marker of desired internal authority, the center of holiness and purity descended from Abraham and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, and resistant to the external power of the latest invader signifying how far their lived partnership with G*D and Neighb*r had been compromised.

Mark 10:52

“You may go,” Jesus said; “your faith has delivered you.” Immediately he recovered his sight, and began to follow Jesus along the road.

what you see you see
what you see will lead
to even more seeing
and seeing to hearing
and hearing to touching

seeing a first time
yet needs seeing a second
third fourth forty-second
lest we stop seeing
and fall back to blindness

for the moment rejoice
you see at all
follow this path awhile
’til you see another path
calling out as you have

There is no recorded waving of the hand or spitting recorded before Jesus announces that the request for sight was completed before the request even left his lips.

As was said to the woman who interrupted another part of Jesus’ journey, “Your faith/trust has healed you.”

In both cases, the one healed of their particular form of brokenness is told to “Go”, to “Go in peace”.

We don’t know if the bleeding woman is now among the women following Jesus to Jerusalem where more blood will flow. There would be no reason to be surprised at this. What we now hear is that this insightful (“Son of G*D” caller) unsighted beggar has joined the journey up from Jericho to Jerusalem. Did he leave his cloak behind with his begging bowl when someone gave him the equivalent of Joseph’s amazing coat to celebrate the arrival of mercy in his life?

Even without the background of daily experience with Jesus, as did the disciples, this one has heard a call. Not to come and learn to fish for people, but to be a present witness of mercy’s effect—“I once was blind, but now I see!”

This is a baptismal scene, as much as that with Baptizer John at the Jordan that began this tale of good news by Mark. It brings us full-circle. The “Spirit” is driving this man to his own wilderness where, with beasts and angels, he will encounter everyday violence and surprising sustenance as he feasts on tomorrow while yet in today, tasting a rising with all those who have lain in the land of the dead.

From Jericho as entry-point to a “Promised Land” to Jericho as a curtain to Act 2, we have crossed wrinkled time in a tesseract moment. When the curtain opens next we will see where a journey of good news travels on its way to a next day. There will be the wonderful irony of fisherfolk themselves being caught … and then released.