The next day it got out in the huge crowd that had come to the festival that Jesus was coming to town. So they tore the branches down from palm trees and ran out to meet him, chanting:
God save us!
Here comes the King of Israel!
Hooray for God’s man who’s coming!
Jesus found a donkey to ride. The scripture says, “Don’t be afraid, child of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”
His students were mystified by all this at first. Later on, when Jesus had gone to heaven, they put together what had been written about him with what had been done to him.
In John’s version, unlike Mark’s version, the crowds are clearly driving the story at this point. The best Jesus can do for initiative is to grab the nearest donkey that happens to be handy as the crowd whisks him along. The disciples are equally useless. All of it, as John says, is being done to him.
If the expectations of the crowd were misplaced in Mark’s version (and subsequently Matthew and Luke’s), the misunderstanding of the crowd is all there is in John’s version. There is no more intention of Jesus at all, and the whole episode is that much more happenstancial evidence that the prophesy about Jesus is being fulfilled as proof of who Jesus is.
Of course, nobody in the moment has any idea of who Jesus really is. And that’s the fourth gospel’s primary narrative means of communicating the story: nobody understands who anybody else really is. Those who appear to be in control never are, and those who appear not to be in control really are at the center of power.
In this scene, the crowds seem to be controlling everything, and yet have no idea what they’re doing. Jesus, who seems to be just passively along for the ride, is the one who is “being glorified.” The students, who represent the best of what can be understood, have no idea what’s going on until it’s all over.
So, what about it? Have you ever realized, only after it was all over, that something momentous was happening, that nothing really was what it seemed to be, until it was already over? Are you passively letting everything happen to you, or do you know exactly where all this is leading?