More literally, the entire city quaked as Jesus entered. Given my proclivity to believe (with some reservations) the Palm Sunday narrative of John Crossan and Marcus Borg in their book, The Last Week – that there were dueling parades between Pilate and Jesus happening on Palm Sunday – I’m reading this line with great interest this week.
Matthew is clear that the turmoil isn’t about Roman oppression or the fact that Passover is coming, but rather it is because of Jesus. Jesus enters town on a donkey and the whole city trembles. Matthew only uses this word three times in his Gospel, all within the last week of Jesus’ life. In fact, he is the only Gospel writer to use this word.
- Matthew 21:10 – our lesson for this Sunday – “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?'”
- Matthew 27:51 – just as Jesus gives up his spirit – “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
- Matthew 28:4 – when the guards see the angel at the moment of Christ’s resurrection – “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
Clearly, Matthew saves this term for only the most holy of moments. This quaking, shaking, turmoil is sign and symbol of the supernatural work that God is up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is unsettling, this Jesus stuff. It causes people to be in turmoil, even the ground the shake, because it changes the fundamental relationship between God and humanity. God is invested in us. In the person of Jesus Christ, he has made himself fully aware of the plight of humanity, and redeems it. He removes us from our bondage to sin and death, he shakes the foundations of our lives, and calls us to new life, resurrected life, in him. If that doesn’t put you into turmoil, I don’t know what will.