Reflecting on Mark for the Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 9:2-10


Jesus’ triumphal entry takes place among thousands of pilgrims arriving in the Holy City for the feast of Passover (14:1). There is a sense of excitement and elation, as the crowd around him shouts for joy and spontaneously shows him signs of honor. To spread cloaks on the road was a gesture of homage before a newly crowned king (see 2 Kings 9:13).

Mark’s description evokes an occasion some two centuries earlier, when Simon Maccabeus and his followers entered the city after their successful revolt “with shouts of jubilation, waving of palm branches . . . and the singing of hymns and canticles, because a great enemy of Israel had been destroyed” (1 Macc 13:51).

The crowd chants from Ps 118:25–26: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This psalm, originally a royal song of thanksgiving for a military victory, was one of the great hymns sung by pilgrims processing into the temple for a festival. Jesus will later apply it specifically to his coming passion and resurrection (Mark 12:10–11).

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that originally meant “Save us!” but in liturgical usage had become a shout of praise or acclamation, much like “Hallelujah!” The blessing on “he who comes in the name of the Lord” was a customary greeting, but also has a deeper significance: Jesus comes in God’s name as his faithful representative, who will perfectly accomplish his will.

The cry, Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Expresses messianic hope, but without directly acknowledging Jesus as Messiah. The people’s enthusiasm is genuine, but they do not seem to recognize that the time of fulfillment has already arrived (1:15), and that the kingdom has come in the person of Jesus himself, the “son of David” (10:47). Nor do they realize that his kingship will be exercised not in a political restoration of the Davidic monarchy, but on the cross.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.