When I was a little girl, I lived in Morocco. Once, it was Ramadan, the big feast in the summer when the Muslims fast all day and party all night. As part of it all, there was a big parade. There were huge Arabian horses before the parade that were running back and forth with Arab men in turbans and Arab clothing on them. The horse’s hoofs hit the ground so hard that the ground vibrated and the noise was large, and the horses were so large they scared me. Those Arabian horses were downright beautiful and impressive! I wasn’t a horse rider back then and didn’t know anything about horses, but these horses were huge, strong, beautiful, and majestic.
When the parade began, my family and I along with Yagoop, our Morocco gardener, were standing at the front of a crowd, and there were gendarmes (Moroccan policemen) all around us with guns in uniforms and berets. The parade began. Those horses went in front of the parade, and one by one they walked down the parade path, and they were a real sight to behold! Next, they said the king was coming. They said he was on his way to kill a lamb, that he had to cut the throat of the lamb as part of the celebration of Ramadan. I thought, “Wow! after as beautiful as those horses were, I can’t wait to see how the king is decked out!” We had come from England to Morocco, and I knew the royal family in England wore elegant clothing, wore lots of fancy jewels, and rode in beautiful horse drawn carriages down the parade path. I expected something like that from the king of Morocco.
The crowd behind us was getting excited! They began screaming! The women were flapping their tongues and kind of yodeling. They were all in a big crowd behind us doing it together, and it was kind of scary. After all, I was only in elementary school, and I wasn’t Arab and didn’t quite understand what was happening. The gendarmes came and began pushing everyone back because they were afraid that someone would come out of the crowd and hurt the king, and the gendarme began to push us back too. At that point, Yagoop talked to the gendarmes and told them that we were Americans, and we wouldn’t hurt anyone, so the gendarmes left us alone and pushed the people behind us back. The gendarmes were holding their riffles with both hands and using them like a bar, and the people just kept screaming, flapping their tongues, and doing their yodel. They were getting louder and louder, and scarier and scarier!
Just then, they began saying, “He is coming! He is coming!” Along came a man wrapped in a white sheet from head to toe sitting on a donkey. He was quiet and serene. It was a big contrast to everything else that had happened up until that point I asked, “Where is the king?” They told me the man in the white sheet quietly riding along side saddle on a donkey was the king. The sheet was over his head, and even though he could see out, it was so close I couldn’t even see his face. I was puzzled. This was not what I had envisioned as a king. His donkey walked along, and he went into a building at the other end of the crowd, and they said he would slit the throat of the lamb in there, and there was going to be a big party in the evening. My parents were invited to the party, but I wasn’t.
I learned that kings in the middle east ride donkeys because they are showing their humility. That white sheet symbolized purity and simplicity. I was learning about middle eastern culture.
When people from the west and the east read the Bible, they don’t realize that the culture of the people is completely different from anything they know. The white symbolized purity, but my friends from Bangladesh say that white is the color of death in Bangladesh. When European and American widows wear black and the bride wear white, in Bangladesh, the bride wears red and the widow wears white. In Korea, kings wear red and gold, but in the west, kings wear purple and crowns. Everywhere, they have different coloring symbolizing different things.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with all the people waving palm branches and putting then down for the donkey to walk on, do we really understand? Yes, many churches called today “Palms Sunday.” It is the anniversary of the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people greeted him as a king. Jesus was a humble king riding on a donkey, and the palm branches were part of the Jewish culture. In Leviticus 23:40, in the Old Testament, Moses gives the people instructions for the Feast of the Tabernacles, a week long Jewish festival where they celebrated the harvest. On the first day, they are supposed to take the best fruit from the trees and the nicest palm leaves to wave in the air and use them to celebrate for seven days. If you read Revelation 7:9, the people in the white robes (symbolizing being free from sin, purity) from every nation on earth were in front of the throne of God and waving palm leaves to worship God and give thanks to Jesus for his sacrifice. On the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in Matthew 21:1-13, they were using the palm trees for celebration to wave in the air and putting them there for the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on like we would roll out a red carpet for royalty in the west. The whole city was impressed with what the people were doing and talking about Jesus. They were yelling out, “Hosanna to the song of David.” David was their great king, and they were looking for someone the prophets told them would come from the family of David who would establish a kingdom that would last forever (2 Samuel 7:8-13). (That kingdom is the church.) They were praising him because he was known as the great prophet from Nazareth which is also another of the many prophecies from the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled. Matthew 2:23 says that the one they were looking for, the Messiah, would be from Nazareth. The whole city of Jerusalem was impressed when he rode in on a donkey, a humble king, prophet, and messiah.
The Pharisees and Sadducees (two religious groups in the Jewish religion) were watching, and they didn’t like what they saw. They were the ones who wore fancy clothes and probably rode on the big strong, majestic horses or rode in fancy carriages. They wanted the attention. However, Jesus knew when he rode into Jerusalem what was going to happen. Back in Matthew 20, as he and he apostles were walking toward Jerusalem, he had already told them that in Jerusalem that he would be arrested, beaten, and killed on a cross, and on the third day, he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what was coming, but he had the bravery to ride into Jerusalem on that donkey anyway. He is our humble, brave king who loved us enough to let them kill him.