Untying the Colt

Mark 11:1-11 – Palm Sunday – for April 1, 2012

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives…” (Mark 11:1)

We call it Palm Sunday now.

Palm Sunday, then or now...

But back then, on a Sunday two millennia ago, what kind of day dawned? The Jewish Sabbath had ended after Saturday’s sun set across first century Palestine. Was Sunday a day where coolness lingered in the morning, providing a brief respite from the day’s inevitable heat? Or—as women stirred to make the first trip to hoist cooking water from the wells or men grumbled while trudging toward a field to capture wandering sheep—did sweat already slick cheeks before the mean-spirited sun cleared the horizon?

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A Roman Centurion gazed at the empty desert sky, wondering what Rome really looked like. He’d never been there.

The blacksmith stoked his fire. An order for nails today. Thick ones. Long ones. Damn Romans and their damn demands.

A Jerusalem shopkeeper squatted to shit, thinking he should raise his prices because the demand would be so great as the crowds increased around Passover.

Across town, having just comforted his crying child while his wife breast-fed their newest, a carpenter knew he’d have to leave soon. He’d ordered extra supplies to build more festival booths. Did he really have enough wood? Or too much?

Pilate awoke from another restless night. Barely shifting, for he didn’t want to disturb his wife, he glanced at her. Just enough light to trace the contours of her round face. Were her eyelids fluttering? Was she dreaming her awful dreams again? She was plagued by them, and invariably shared her nocturnal dis-ease with him. Pilate’s throat felt parched; too much wine last night . . . or not enough. How he hated this forgotten garbage dump of the Empire.

The high priest, guilt like a sword pricking his heart, paused in the courtyard’s gray shadows. His eager eyes followed two women carrying caged birds for a temple sacrifice. Yesterday the younger one, now near enough to hear the rustle of her garments as they strolled by, had gazed at him longer than was acceptable. He should’ve chastised her or turned away. But he hadn’t. Couldn’t. Like then, he kept watching. The priest grimaced while he adjusted the phylactery he’d tied too tightly on his arm. The woman looked in his direction. Could she see him?

A mother kneaded bread in the darkness of a back room. Extra loaves were required today. Because of Passover, more family would crowd into her cramped space. She didn’t know if the bloated, noisy festival pleased God, but it brought her children home. That pleased her.

As flat morning light filtered through a shuttered window, a whore finally claimed her bed for herself.

Children scampered in the streets, dirt-streaked before their first meal.

A dog, thin ribs exposed like a fence, gnawed at a discarded bone . . .


. . . At Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, the Nazarene slowed his ground-consuming gait and then, abruptly, stopped. I expected he’d say something to Simon Peter, who’d matched him stride for stride, or perhaps to John, a half step behind. But he gazed at me. And the disciple beside me. Continue reading →