Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem
1Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. 2Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. 3It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.
(Ezek. 44:1-3) [KJV]

There may be no more enigmatic book in the entire Bible than Ezekiel. The visions there are extremely obscure.  This passage is one that has been quoted as Scriptural authority for the doctrine, believed both in Rome and in the East, as well as some Lutherans and Anglicans, that the blessed Virgin Mary remained a virgin all her life.  The gate is, by this interpretation, her womb.  St. Jerome first interpreted this passage that way, and Luther agreed with that interpretation.  Those are the two most seminal people in all of western Bible interpretation.

The Bible, however, does not always have to be difficult.  It is a basic principle of interpretation that if there is a simple explanation, one does not look for a more complex one unless there is some other clear authority to support that more difficult explanation.  There is no literary or historical context that would suggest that St. Jerome's interpretation is true; there is only that great interpreter's desire to show that a doctrine that was just then becoming widespread was true and recognizing that there is no other Scripture to support it.  Luther, while agreeing with St. Jerome, concedes elsewhere that beyond the fact that Mary was still a virgin when she bore Jesus, the Bible is silent. 

But if it doesn't prophesy the perpetual virginity of Mary, what does it signify?  The answer is simple, and it is why this is the text for today's meditation.

On that first Palm Sunday, it is undisputed that Jesus was coming from Bethany, by way of the Mount of Olives. Matt. 21:1; Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29; John 12:1-12.  It would be strange for Him to circle around the city to enter it.  Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, is east of the city, as is the Mount of Olives.  Further, when He entered, the first place in Jerusalem that we are told He went is the Temple. 

Now, when Jesus left Jerusalem for the final time--to go to the place where He ascended, where did He go?  He went out to Bethany.  Luke 24:50; Acts 1:12.  So, He left the same way as He came--which is exactly what Ezekiel describes.  This prophecy came true quite literally.  The basic principles for understanding the Bible include 1. that Scripture interprets itself, so the sense of obscure passages should be gained from clear ones, which plainly the accounts both of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and of His departure to the place of His ascension are; 2. that Scripture ordinarily has a single sense; if it means one thing, very seldom does it mean another.  This prophecy was literally true; why would it have a second sense? and 3. meaning should be drawn from context; what is there in the text preceding or following to support some figurative meaning?  There is nothing in that vision, either in the previous chapter or in the rest of Ezekiel 44, that appears to impart a Marian significance to this passage.  So let us view this prophecy, this Palm Sunday, in terms of its literal fulfillment, entering through the eastern gate, and when He left the last time, leaving the same way.

There is, of course, another prophetic passage very commonly associated with the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, Zech. 9:9.  It prophesies the manner in which Jesus is to come to Jerusalem; Ezekiel prophesies through which gate He will enter.  This is not uncommon in prophecy.  We all know that the virgin birth is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14; yet where the virgin shall conceive and bear a son is not said there or anywhere else in Isaiah, though that prophet prophesies greatly of Jesus.  Where He was to be born was Bethlehem.  But that prophecy came not from Isaiah, but from the prophet Micah.  (Micah 5:2) This prophecy was well known to the priests and scribes, who told the visitors from the East where they might find the Messiah. (Matt. 2:5-6)

The parts of the Palm Sunday prophecy form a whole, fulfilled as Jesus entered through the east gate on a donkey colt.  He is shown by this entry to be the King prophesied by Ezekiel and Zechariah.  He is, as Pilate would soon put on His cross, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  More, He is king of all those who will come from the east and the west to join Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb.  May we all be present at that feast, free of the distractions of speculative and dubious teachings.  Amen.