Signs and Signals

By Jane WIlliams

Monday in Holy Week

A Reading from the Gospel of John 12:9-19

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord —
   the King of Israel!”
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”


John’s gospel gives an emotionally and politically feverish setting for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus has just performed his greatest miracle, one that cannot be denied or covered up by his detractors — he has raised Lazarus from death. Unsurprisingly, his fame has spread like wildfire. The crowds who acclaim Jesus as the King of Israel, the Messiah, are made up of people who witnessed this miracle and people who had heard about it.

Jesus’ action in entering Jerusalem on a young donkey is both a confirmation that the crowds are right to call him their king, and a signal, if only the authorities would read it rightly, that Jesus has come to bring peace. Zephaniah 3:16 promises that there is nothing to fear from a king who loves his people as God does, and Zechariah 9:9 pictures the humble king, riding on a donkey, putting an end to war.

John, the master of irony, shows us all that Jesus promises of God’s love, compassion, and peace, and how it is received by the religious leaders with fear and intense dislike. John shows them, muttering in corners, longing for a time when they can separate Jesus from his crowd of supporters but too afraid to challenge him directly.

The disciples, too, are caught up in the great triumphal entry, full of hope that at last the time of conquest has come. They, too, fail to read aright the symbolism of the donkey, and the kind of king that Jesus is, until later, John tells us, when they saw “what had been done to him” (v. 16).

From the great opening prologue and throughout the gospel, John poses the question: why do we cling onto our own destructive power and reject the goodness and love of God?

Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).

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Today we pray for:

Church of the Holy Faith, Santa Fe, N.M.
The Diocese of Bari (Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion)


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