Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Man on a Colt with No Name

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 19:28-40, Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. To see a brief overview of how Jesus works as a Community Organizer/Event Planner in this story and the story of the Last Supper, visit here.

28 Καὶ εἰπὼν ταῦτα ἐπορεύετο ἔμπροσθεν ἀναβαίνων εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα. 
And having said these things he was going ahead going up into Jerusalem.
εἰπὼν: AAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐπορεύετο: IMI 3s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 
ἀναβαίνων: PAPart nsm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up 
1. This pericope references the previous story, a parable that begins with this ominous introduction in v.11: “As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.”
2. Verse 11 foreshadows our story, which I think warrants reflection. Does the crowd of our story share this supposition? The parable that precedes our pericope addresses the supposition – which, it seems to me, is a wrong supposition. So, what is the parable in vv.12-27? Well, I think what we name the parable reflects how we interpret the parable: “The Parable of the Wicked Slave”? That would imply that the slave who refused to participate in increasing the king’s money was wicked and lazy, just as the king describes him. “The Parable of the Wicked Nobleman”? That would imply that the nobleman-become-king himself is a tyrant, exactly as the slave and the people who despise him describe him. “The Parable of the Ten Pounds”? That is a neutral title that leaves the interpretation open.
3. Part of the parable is the dynamic that the Nobleman (literally “a man who was well-born” v.12) had gone away in order to gain a kingdom and the people who would be under his rule hated him and sent a delegation urging whomever not to let him be a king. Alas, the man became a king and – after the business of the pounds – demanded for those people who spoke against his rule to be slaughtered.
I gotta say, it’s a perfect parable to describe Herod, but Jesus? I can’t go there.
4. Should vv.11-27 be included in the reading this week, in order to give shape to the joyous procession into Jerusalem? Or, would that complicate matters too much?

29 Καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἤγγισεν εἰς Βηθφαγὴ καὶ Βηθανία[ν] πρὸς τὸ ὄρος τὸ καλούμενον Ἐλαιῶν, ἀπέστειλεν δύο τῶν μαθητῶν 
And it was as he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany to the mountain which is called Olives, he sent two of the disciples
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἤγγισεν: AAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another 
καλούμενον: PPPart asn, καλέω, 1) to call
ἀπέστειλεν: AAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss 
1. I never quite know what to do with Καὶ ἐγένετο. The best translation I know is actually the King James’ quaint, “And it came to pass.”  I’m going with “And it was …”
2. Why this verse is chopped up mid-sentence is beyond me.

30 λέγων, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κατέναντι κώμην, ἐν  εἰσπορευόμενοι εὑρήσετε πῶλον  δεδεμένον, ἐφ' ὃν οὐδεὶς πώποτε ἀνθρώπων ἐκάθισεν, καὶ λύσαντες αὐτὸν ἀγάγετε. 
Saying, “Slip into the opposite village, in which on entering you will find a colt that has been fastened, on which no one of men ever sat, and having loosed it bring [it].”
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ὑπάγετε: PAInf 2p, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, 2) with the idea of stealth, without noise or notice, hence, generally, to go away, depart so as to be under cover, out of sight.
εἰσπορευόμενοι: PMPart npm, εἰσπορεύομαι, 1) to go into, enter 
εὑρήσετε: FAI 2p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with 
δεδεμένον: PerfPPart asm, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten
ἐκάθισεν: AAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down 
λύσαντες: AAPart npm, λύω, 1) to loose any person
ἀγάγετε: AAImpv 2p, ἄγω,1) to lead, take with one 
1. Yes, I said “Slip,” instead of the more neutral, “Go.” There are plenty of verbs that could have sufficed for “go.” ὑπάγω, as the secondary definition suggests above, can have the overtone of stealth. I might even go with “sneak,” but I remember how forcefully a British friend of mine reacted to that word once – much like Gollum reacts strongly to it in the LOTR. So, maybe that would be overstating the case.
2. However, IF WE ONLY HAD THIS VERSE AND THE NEXT TO GO ON, it would seem that Jesus is sending the two disciples into the village to steal a colt and to lie to whomever asks that the colt’s owner needs it. (See next verse).
3. But, when this plan is executed, it is the colt’s owners who ask, “Why are you untying the colt?” So, … hmm…
4. If this is a matter of stealth, why? We have no other account of Jesus riding a steed in the gospels, so maybe it was not a common activity for a non-rich man. And maybe horses weren’t just plentifully hanging around hitching posts, like in an Old Western Town of cowboy movies. For two of Jesus’ disciples to go into town and fetch a colt might have raises suspicions from Jesus’ enemies.

31 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμᾶς ἐρωτᾷ, Διὰ τί λύετε; οὕτως ἐρεῖτε ὅτι  κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει. 
And if anyone should ask you, “Why are you loosing?” say to them “Its owner has need.” [Or, “Its Lord has need” or “The Lord has need of it.]
ἐρωτᾷ: PASubj 3s, ἐρωτάω, 1) to question  2) to ask
λύετε: PAI 2p, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 
ἐρεῖτε: FAI 2p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. There is a choice for the interpreter here. The response could read, “The Lord has need of it,” or “Its Lord has need.” The genitive pronoun αὐτοῦ could be either identifying Jesu as “Its [the colt’s] Lord/owner” or it could elaborate the “need” as what “the Lord” needs. The only reason I want to opt for “Its owner has need” instead of going with virtually every other translations’ interpretation is because the construction  κύριος αὐτοῦ  also appears in v.33, with reference to the colt’s “Lords,” except that it is plural there. They are described as οἱ κύριοι αὐτοῦ” and virtually every other translation called them “its owners.”  
2. Of course, the word “Lord” can mean owner, gentleman, “Sir”, etc. and does not necessarily imply the singular lordship of Christ (think “Señor” in Spanish). So, the translations are trying not to confuse the common meaning of Lord with the specific meaning of it when speaking of Jesus. However, it seems a bit deceptive to translated Ὁ κύριος as “The Lord” and οἱ κύριοι as “the owners” without at least some annotation signifying that the same word is being taken into two very different directions. For consistency’s sake, I’m going with “owner” in these sentences. The decision to distinguish between “Lord” and “owner” may be right, but it seems that the interpreters are sparing the English Bible readers the trouble of making the interpretive judgment for themselves.

32 ἀπελθόντες δὲ οἱ ἀπεσταλμένοι εὗρον καθὼς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς. 
Then having gone the sent ones found just as he said to them.
ἀπελθόντες: AAPart npm, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
ἀπεσταλμένοι: PerfPPart npm, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss 
εὗρον: AAI 3p, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
1. Jesus seems to be orchestrating the events here and this verse sounds like it is no random colt but a specific one that they were to bring back. Did Jesus know of the colt’s presence by super knowledge? Or, had he arranged the colt’s presence beforehand, perhaps along with the password for allowing the two disciples to take it?

33 λυόντων δὲ αὐτῶν τὸν πῶλον εἶπαν οἱ κύριοι αὐτοῦ πρὸς αὐτούς, Τί λύετε τὸν πῶλον;
Then while they were untying the colt its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
λυόντων: PAPart gpm, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
λύετε: PAI 2p, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened
1. Not to belabor the point, but this is where the colts’ owners/lords are identified.

34 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν ὅτι  κύριος αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχει. 
Then they said, “Its owner has need.” [Or, “Its Lord has need," or "The Lord has need of it".]
εἶπαν: λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. One wonders why the colt’s owners don’t protest and say, “But we’re the owners!” I suspect this has all been laid out ahead of time and this response a password. Maybe I’m making way too much out of the ‘stealth’ possibilities of ὑπάγω back in v.30.
2. And perhaps I'm making too much of "owner" as a possibility of κύριος. If we just said "caregiver," or "tender," we would still have the dual identifications of the caregivers who are asking this question and the caregiver who needs it. So, it's not the word choice but that duality that seems interesting to me in this story. 

35 καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, καὶ ἐπιρίψαντες αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐπὶ τὸν 
πῶλον ἐπεβίβασαν τὸν Ἰησοῦν. 
And they led it to Jesus, and having thrown their clothes on the colt they set Jesus [on the colt].
ἤγαγον: AAI 3p, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one
ἐπιρίψαντες: AAPart npm, ἐπιρρίπτω, to throw or cast upon.
ἐπεβίβασαν: AAI 3p, ἐπιβιβάζω, 1) to cause to mount  2) to place upon
1. It’s kind of curious how the agency changes here. After Jesus orchestrated the journey to obtain the colt, it is “they” who bring the colt to Jesus, fashion a peasant’s saddle, and set Jesus on it. Jesus seems passive and pliable in this and the following verses.
2. I am assuming that the “they” of this verse still refers to the two disciples. But, I don’t know if it is reasonable to continue that thread into the next verse. So, somewhere along the way the “they” (either signified by a pronoun or implied in the plurality of the verbs) seems to change from just the two sent disciples to many more folks.

36 πορευομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ὑπεστρώννυον τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ. 
Then as he was going they were spreading out their clothes in the road.
πορευομένου: PMPart gsm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 
ὑπεστρώννυον: IAI 3p ὑποστρώννυμι, to strow or spread underneath
1. I don’t know what the point of littering the road with garments is. Having grown up hearing the myth of Sir Walter Raleigh gallantly throwing his cloak over a mud puddle so the queen would not soil her royal toesies, I hear this as a sign of profound respect and subservience.

37 Ἐγγίζοντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ἤδη πρὸς τῇ καταβάσει τοῦ Ὄρους τῶν Ἐλαιῶν ἤρξαντο 
ἅπαν τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν χαίροντες αἰνεῖν τὸν θεὸν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ περὶ πασῶν ὧν εἶδον δυνάμεων, 
Then as he is coming near now to the descent of the Mountain of Olives all the multitude of the disciples began rejoicing to praise God in a loud voice for all of the powers which they had seen.  
Ἐγγίζοντος: PAPart gsm, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another 
ἤρξαντο: AMI 3p, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
χαίροντες: PAPart npm, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, be glad 
αἰνεῖν: PAInf, αἰνέω, 1) to praise, extol, to sing praises in honour to God 
εἶδον: AAI 3p, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
1. Phew, this sentence is a mouthful! It is interesting how Luke suddenly gets in real time, using the present participle and the conjunction “now.” This is excitable storytelling.
2. The noun δυνάμεων (powers) is plural.
3. Now there is no question that the two disciples had done their job and the whole plethora or disciples are joining the parade.

38 λέγοντες, Εὐλογημένος  ἐρχόμενος  βασιλεὺς ἐν ὀ νόματι κυρίου: ἐν οὐρανῷ εἰρήνη καὶ δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις. 
Saying, “Blessed the king who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the heights.”
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Εὐλογημένος: PerfPPart nsm, εὐλογέω, 1) to praise, celebrate with praises 
ἐρχόμενος: PMPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
1. If some of this language sounds familiar from the Christmas story, it should! Both the angels voices and Simeon’s blessing invoke much of this same language.
2. Again, Jesus is doing very little here. He is letting it happen and is along for the ride, so to speak.

39 καί τινες τῶν Φαρισαίων ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε, ἐπιτίμησον τοῖς μαθηταῖς σου. 
And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
εἶπαν: AAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἐπιτίμησον: AAImpv 2s, ἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honor to, to honor, 2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply 
1. The word ἐπιτιμάω can mean ‘rebuke’ or ‘honor.’ Weird.

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν οὗτοι σιωπήσουσιν, οἱ λίθοι κράξουσιν.
And having answered he said, “I say to you, if these will be silenced, the stones would cry out.”
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
σιωπήσουσιν: FAI 3p, σιωπάω, 1) to be silent, hold one's peace 
κράξουσιν: FAI 3p, κράζω, 1) to croak  1a) of the cry of a raven  1b) hence, to cry out, cry aloud
1. I’m going to step out on a limb here and suspect that the Pharisee critics would probably prefer a rambunctious crowd crying out more than stones.
2. The verb for “cry out” typically describes demons and desperate people in Luke. See 4:41, 9:39, and 18:39. It seems to be an onomatopoeia for something like a raven's croak. "Squawk" would be a nice English equivalent, I think.

So, circling back to the story that precedes this one, and especially v.11 that introduces it, Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and tells a parable because “they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” Does that supposition shape this event? Is the crowd, however much Jesus refuses to rebuke them, doing the wrong thing here? Certainly if they imagine that Jesus is going to ride right up to the temple and become the next King David after the manner of the Caesars or Herod, then their supposition is wrong.

What, then, is this procession?


  1. Fascinating stuff here! Thank you for your work. I am playing with the idea of sovereignty and fealty--a theme few Americans understand or embrace for obvious historical reasons. The passivity you mention in verse 35 reminds me of a nobleman being served by a footman or a valet. You have certainly helped me explore this idea more deeply. Thanks!

    1. Excellent, Kristin! Thanks for the feedback. I hadn't thought of the 'footman' or 'valet' angle, even as devoted as I have been to Downton Abbey!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, my man! A Blessed Holy Week to you and your congregation!

  3. I am left wondering about two features that are commonly integrated with this story in the same way that people still drag every image and element to create one large and messy Nativity story. Luke has no mention of palms and no Hosanna in their song. Very different messages coming through to the more familiar renditions of Matthew and Mark!

    1. But the children, Kim. How would our children know it's almost Easter without sword-fighting with palm branches the prior week? It would be like telling Luke's Christmas story without a Magi role for the really tall kid.

      I'm kidding and you're right, of course.

      To some extent, I do believe there is a difference between the kind of study that a particular text deserves and trans-textual celebrations that mark Christian worship. On Palm Sunday, we are remembering Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. We read Luke's or Mark's story to remember it, but it's the entry itself that is of importance. While the uniqueness of a text is important in some respects, I think it's also important to let the texts point beyond themselves to a reality, which happens to be presented in several different ways.

      To your point, however, it is important to let Luke contribute what Luke has to contribute to the way we conceive the event.

      Thanks for your note.

  4. Yet another interesting episode in an interesting context. It's not an entry - Jesus only descends down the hill (the crowds have left him by the time he ascends to the 'top'?). Jesus' weeping over the city says pretty clearly that he is going there not as a king but as a prophet to be killed. The descent song will have a contrary tune on ascent.
    Bit of a parody on Roman triumphs as well, altho Luke seems to remove the political dimension here, as he does elsewhere. No 'peace on earth'!
    Elements of the Passover Psalms here too (Pss 113-118) but again slightly subdued. No mention of 'David' as in other Gospels

    The clothes stuff echoes Jehu's coronation (2 Kgs 9) as well as Raleigh's noble gesture.

    Will the stones cry out if the crowds are silent or because they are?

    1. Wow, that's a great point, Rick, about the stones. Thanks!

  5. concerning v. 36, Rick is correct in pointing out that it is a connection to 2 Kings 9.

    Though I believe that this is not removing the political dimension. I do not know how an allusion to a coup, as well as an allusion to Habbakuk 2 can de-politicize it. I think this passage is HIGHLY political. It is taking to task any ruler or leader who takes care of himself, who robs and steals, or even uses legal means to gain. This is clearly a rebuke of the Pharisees and it is a rebuke of Herod, Pilate, and Caesar. They all stand condemned compared to the king who rides a donkey.

  6. Rick and Ryan,
    Thanks for your notes. In a fascinating and very heavily annotated article, "Reading the Potentials of Jesus' 'Triumphal Entry,'" Michal Beth Dinkler shows how there are many biblical scholars who feel that Luke's version of this story is presented as a threat to the Empire and many who present it as conciliatory to the Empire. Then, using the insights of postcolonial studies, she shows how the text can display some ambivalence. To wit: "Homi Bhabha’s concept of colonial ambivalence has helped to destabilize an overly simplistic colonizer/colonized binary by highlighting the oscillation between desire and denigration that occurs within both colonizer and colonized, and that invariably implicates both in contested discourses of identity." For Dinkler, the fact that biblical scholars can vigorously defend this story as both a threat and a conciliatory act show that both pro- and anti- colonialism are present in the text itself, therefore bringing the reader into a specific interpretive relationship with it.
    I find myself vacillating between the imitative qualities and the defiant qualities of Jesus' ride toward Jerusalem. I can see it both as an indication and an irony. And, I think I can find a way to cheer it as such.
    That said, I still cannot read this story apart from the one that precedes it (vv.11-27), told specifically for those who thought the Reign of God was going to come immediately. Again, one's interpretation of that story (even what to call it) may set a course for interpreting the story of the ride toward Jerusalem.
    Thanks again for your notes,

  7. I have always thought of throwing off one's cloak as throwing off oppression and what better symbol that overthrowing the Roman government with the arrival of God's Son.


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