Because the gospel writers frame their narratives differently, we sometimes need to weave them together in order to see the big picture. Only Luke reprises Jesus’ parable about the noble who went to a distant land in order to receive the authority to rule as king. Because he was near to Jerusalem, and because his followers thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately, Jesus told them a parable: “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return” (Luke 19:11).
Only Matthew connects the donkey ride to Zechariah’s prophecy: Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and has been saved; he is humble and riding on a donkey” (9:9)—and Matthew only focuses on the animals.
Only John relates that Jesus didn’t begin entering the city on a donkey. He paused on his way into Jerusalem to send his team after the donkey, because he understood how twisted the path to his throne truly was.
Even though nobody seems to have caught on at the time, Jesus communicated the truth about kingdom mechanics. Zechariah described the king as both vindicated and having been delivered, one who had been humbled before entering to claim his throne. Jesus knew his long journey included his incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and eventual return. And he knew that the resurrection would mean his deliverance from the jaws of death.
So, when he stopped the procession to send for the donkey’s colt, he added an object lesson to the parabolic one he’d spoken earlier. With these pictures in mind, we can exult in his humility before the Father’s plan and forge ahead with him as he struggles through his trials and travails in the garden, while we eagerly await the resurrection and his real triumphant reentry!
Their expectations surged as hope arose again.
The Kingdom seemed so close while Jesus talked
Of saving errant, lost and needy men
Who’d follow on the path that he had walked.
So as they walked, he wove another tale
About a noble son who traveled long
And far to gain a crown and thus prevail
Against the foes who sought to do him wrong.
Perceiving that they failed to understand,
He sent his men to fetch a donkey’s foal
So he could demonstrate with clarity
The intricacy of what the Father planned:
How victory, which was the final goal,
Must be preceded by the Son’s humility.