In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9). Mark’s version is slightly different: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”
Luke, as is his wont, omits the word “Hosanna,” which would be unfamiliar to his Gentile audience. In his version, the crowd sings out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” (Luke 19:38). Luke includes this additional detail: “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’” (Luke 19:39-40). Jesus’ words may allude to Habbakuk 2:11: “For the stone in the wall shall cry out, and the beam in the frame shall answer it!” The prophet condemns those “who build a city by bloodshed, and who establish a town with injustice.”
The word hosanna in Hebrew and Aramaic is not a term of praise. Rather, it is a plea for deliverance. The word is taken from Ps. 118:25: “Lord, grant salvation! Lord, grant good fortune!” The psalm’s usage of hosanna is liturgical.
In later Jewish texts, the word hosanna is associated with the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). During Sukkot, which occurs in the fall, it is applied to the lulav. The lulav is a palm frond, at least three myrtle branches, and two willow branches that are bound together. The lulav is held in the left hand, while a citron (etrog), is held in the right. On the first day of the feast, these “four species” are waved in all six directions: south, north, east, up, down and west. On the last day, they are used in processions around the synagogue, during which special prayers known as hoshanot are recited. These prayers begin and conclude with the word hosanna—“Lord, save us.” Coming as it does shortly after the Day of Atonement, and shortly before the beginning of the rainy season, the Talmud states that Sukkot is the time when “judgment is passed in respect of rain” (Rosh Hashanah 16a).
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people looked to him as the one who would deliver them from the evil and oppression that they experienced at the hands of the Roman occupiers. They understand Jesus to be a scion of the Davidic dynasty, the Son of David. Mark may have understood the people’s acclamation to be messianic. Matthew and Luke are more explicit. Matthew refers to Jesus as “Son of David”; Luke and John call him “king.”
Our Christian faith teaches us that Jesus is indeed king. But he is a king unlike other kings; humble, he rides upon a donkey. He does not seek an empire; rather, his kingdom is not of this world.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.