Hosanna! Hosanna? Hosanna!

Matthew 21:1-11

Entry into Jerusalem

21 When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task.2 He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3  If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. 4 Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, 5 Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.” 6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

8 Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


Thoughts on the passage:

Some of you may know that “Hosanna” is my name sake.  Ozanne, is a French derivation of “Hosanna.” It is thought to have been given to people who were born on Palm Sunday.  Of more interest of course is what does the word “hosanna” mean. Hosanna is a transliteration of the Aramaic, which in turn can be translated from the Hebrew “save now.”  In case I lost you in that linguistic maze, the closest meaning of “hosanna” is “save now.”

The Hebrew phrase only occurs once in scripture, and that is in Psalm 118:25-26 “Save now, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.” A similar word however is used several times when people are pleading to kings for help. It is also an echo of the last of the Scriptures recited as a part of the Hallel prayer during the Passover.

Why are the crowds shouting hosanna? It could be because in Jesus they see a divine savior, and they call out to him as God. It also could be that they are crying out to Jesus like they would a king, begging him for help. Finally, they could be seeing him in the context of the Passover and the deliverance that God offered to the Hebrew slaves. It is likely that many of them might not have even known why exactly they were crying out. Likely, their cries came from a deep desire to be free, but not really know what that would like and if that was even possible.

Jesus, entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was probably not the sort of thing they imagined when they thought of being delivered. Matthew makes a point of tying his entrance to the prophet Zechariah, who was speaking of a meek and humble king.  Many of them probably did not want a humble king. Arrayed against them was the might of Rome, they were not looking for humility, but for great physical strength.

In the same way, what Jesus does to save them is not what any of them might have expected. People were looking for physical deliverance and instead he offered something greater, though less tangible, spiritual salvation. Jesus’ entry is not as a conquering lord with military might, but it does bring its own strength and power.

What are we looking for when we cry out to God to save us? When I was in college, I took a Greyhound bus home to visit my family one of the first weekends I was staying there. I had never ridden Greyhound before and I did not really know what I was doing. I knew the bus was supposed to come at 11:00 and I was supposed to be able to buy a ticket but I did not know how that worked. I remember standing there in the darkness as 11:00 came and went wondering if the bus was coming, if I had done something wrong, and being more than a little uncomfortable being all alone in a strange town at night. I remembering praying to God for help. I was hoping that God would send the bus, but what God did send me was some peace, which was probably even more valuable in the moment.

What we ask for, and what God provides are often different things. When we cry out to be saved, we have an idea what we are hoping will happen. The crowds were crying out for a king, a mighty warrior, to save them from the Romans. We need God to save us too. We need God to save us from financial challenges. We need God to save us from addiction. We need God to save us from illness, from grief, from loneliness, and from all the challenges we personally face. We also need God to save our nation and our world, from hungry, from war, from violence, from disease. For all of these reasons we cry out “Hosanna! Save us!”

God does not answer our cries in the ways that we want. I am reminded of the man and the flood. A man heard a radio report of rising flood waters so he prayed to God to save him. Later on the sheriff knocked at the door and told him to leave because the flood was coming, but he said he was staying because God would save him. The flood waters rose, surrounding the house, and he prayed again for God to save him. A woman came by in a boat and offered to a help him, but he said “no” because God was going to save him. The waters rose even higher and he was forced up onto the roof of his house where he again prayed to God to save him. Finally, a helicopter came by and lowered a ladder. Again the man refused, because he had faith that God would save him. The man eventually drowned and went to Heaven. When he got there he demanded to speak with God. He told God that he was upset because he had prayed and prayed and God had not saved him. God told him “I sent you a radio report, a sheriff, a rowboat, and a helicopter, what more could I have done to save you.”

We cry out to be saved, but we often fail to see the things God is doing to answer our cries. We fail to appreciate all the ways that God is trying to help us, just like the crowds did not understand how Jesus was going to deliver them. Our faith needs to be rooted not in how we are going to be saved by God, but the fact that we are going to be saved. We need to trust that God will come in unexpected ways, like Jesus, entering humbly on a back of a donkey.

So, let us cry out our “hosannas” again. Let us give thanks for the ways that God is at work in our lives and the ways that God is working to save us. As we continue on this journey of Holy Week let us attend not to what we want from God, but on what God is doing for all of us. When we do that, we can join with the crowds in celebrating Christ’s triumphant entry, not into Jerusalem, but into our hearts.

Questions to Ponder:

What do you need to be saved from?

How have you experienced God’s saving presence in your life?

Who is someone you know who needs God’s saving presence in their life?


God of resurrection and new life, help us to see the ways that you are there to save us. Help us to call to you for help and help us know you hear our cries. Help us to get rid of our own expectations for what you should do and instead see what you are already doing.  Bless us in this Holy Week as we seek to let you into our lives once more.  Amen