Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
John reminds us that Jesus’ triumphal entry is a fulfillment of what was written by the prophet Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9).
Zechariah (particularly chapters 9 through 14) is one of the richest sources for prophetic passages fulfilled by Jesus in the last week of his life. So, in addition to Zechariah’s prophecy of the triumphal entry of the King “humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” the prophet goes on to describe that King establishing a dominion “from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). Moreover, the way in which he establishes it reminds us strikingly of the sacrifice of Christ and of the Eucharist that flows from it. “Grain,” says Zechariah, “shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the maidens” (Zechariah 9:17). It is “because of the blood of my covenant” that the captives are “set free from the waterless pit” (Zechariah 9:11). Significantly, the phrase “blood of the covenant” is found in only one other place in the Old Testament: Exodus 24, when the “blood of the covenant” was sprinkled on the heads of the people to seal the Mosaic covenant. Zechariah is referring not to that covenant but to a fulfilled and renewed Davidic covenant. How do we know this? Because here is the King, riding on a donkey, into the royal City, exactly as the Davidic King Solomon had done a thousand years before:
So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, went down and caused Solomon to ride on King David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent, and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise (1 Kings 1:38-40).
So the prophet (and John—and Jesus) wish us to understand that Jesus is not establishing the Mosaic covenant (which, by nature, was provisional), but the covenant of a Davidic King who is humble and riding on a donkey. Jesus takes that exact phrase from Exodus and Zechariah and refers it to the Eucharistic sacrifice of himself: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
As further evidence of this, note that in Zechariah 10, God expresses anger against the false shepherds and declares (Zechariah 10:3) that the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah.” Yet, eerily, the “Shepherd of the flock” is “doomed to be slain” and sold for “thirty shekels of silver” (Zechariah 11:7, 13). Then, in Zechariah 12, we have the rejected King now enthroned, but only after great suffering: “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” “And on that day,” continues Zechariah (13:1), “there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David in the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” This is the fountain of baptism, prophetically foreshadowed.
When we wave those palms this Sunday, we are joining an immense throng of worshippers that stretches back three thousand years. Something to think about.