St. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, “From infancy you have known sacred writings, capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All of the writing is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in justice/charity; one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every noble work.” This implies every word in Torah is necessary.
The reading for the First Sunday of Advent has interesting detail. First, the story begins and ends with the House of Figs, or at least figs, and ends with the House of Poverty. “Bethphage,” and “Bethany,” mean “House of Figs,” and “House of Poverty.” Our passage begins by mentioning these two places. It ends, curiously, by mentioning how after the big triumphal procession, Jesus simply returns to Bethany, the house of poverty. The passage them mentions the curing of the fig tree.
Why all the fanfare and then just have Jesus turn around and go home? “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.” Why mention how nobody has ever sat on this donkey before? Zechariah 9:9 reads, “Shout, daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your king comes to you, triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the son of an ass.” The Septuagint interprets this as, “Shout, daughter of Jerusalem; behold, your king comes to you, triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass, upon a colt of a new ass.” Mark interprets “New ass,” as never ridden.
“If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, ‘The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.’” They went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders told them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. He sat on it.”
Why the detail? “Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the NAME!” This alludes to Psalm 118, part of Hallel, Psalm 113-1118 recited by Jews to this day on of all days, Passover.
Psalm 118 tells us, “Open the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank the NAME. This is the Name’s own gate, through it the righteous enter.” The colt is tied outside of the city gate. In the process of delivering the colt the people open the gates of the city and the righteous one enters, allowing all the righteous before and since to enter.
Zechariah 9:8 reads, “I will encamp at my house that none pass through or return; and no oppressor shall pass through them anymore, for now I have seen with my own eyes.” Mark alludes to this in the driving out of the money-changers. “He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area. He taught them, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people? But you have made it a den of thieves.” In Hebrew and Aramaic, Prayer is a reflexive verb, based upon judgment. In prayer, we sit down with God and ask him how to make the world a better place, in his eyes. Zechariah tells us how God will not allow his enemies to pass through his house, the temple. In Hebrew and Aramaic, “Faith,” is ”Ameth,” the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the alpha and the Omega. In faith we see into the inner workings of God’s world. We then act upon what we see.
Jesus fulfills this verse by driving out his enemies in the temple. He then reminds us that we need to focus on prayer and faith. Faith means seeing the inner workings of God’s world, and how, if God is everywhere, he is in everything. He is not everything, but he is in everything. We must therefore always strive to see God and his mystery in everything. This means forgiving others when their original sin causes them to do things the mystery in them condemns.
As we come to church on Sunday, let us remember, this is not our house, and it is not the priest’s house. This is God’s house, and he means it to be a place of prayer, a place where we sit down with God and ask him how to make the world a better place. This means being with those who live in the house of poverty and working to eliminate that poverty.