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Palm Sunday, March 24

Matthew 21:12–17

Hosanna to the Son of David

Wagner, Ross-CNH (100x110)
Professor Ross Wagner

“The hands of a king are the hands of a healer. And so shall the rightful king be known.” Tolkien fans will recognize the reference immediately: Aragorn, last scion of a great royal house long laid in ruins, suddenly appears in the capital city of his beleaguered people. Though his identity remains veiled, those with eyes to see recognize him – not through his kingly conquests, but through his healing touch, which alone can save those stricken by the Dark Lord’s sorcery.
Knowingly or not, Tolkien here echoes the plot line of the First Gospel. For in Matthew’s telling of the story, it is Jesus’ healing hands, above all, that confirm his identity as Israel’s true king.
The motif of Jesus, the healer-king, reaches its climax in our lectionary passage for today. But to trace its origin, we must go all the way back to the opening verse of the Gospel. Here, in language reminiscent of the first book of the Bible, Matthew recounts the “genesis” of Jesus the Messiah, whom he names “the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). In the course of his rather brief account of Jesus’ ancestry and birth (1:6, 17, 20), the writer manages to mention David four more times.
Matthew leaves his readers in no doubt as to Jesus’ descent from the greatest king of Israel. But for the characters within the narrative, it is a different story. Those who encounter Jesus regularly call him “Teacher” or “Sir (Lord).” Only four times before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem do people name him “Son of David,” and in each case it is in connection with a miracle of healing. In Matthew 9:27–31, two blind men ask in faith for Jesus’ touch: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” Somewhat later, a large crowd watches Jesus restore sight and speech to a demonized man and wonder in amazement, “Can this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23). Even a Canaanite woman puts her hope in the healing power of Israel’s king, pleading on behalf of her suffering daughter, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” (Matthew 15:22). 

In the final scene before Jesus rides into Jerusalem, we again meet two blind men who believe that David’s heir can heal them. They call out from the roadside as Jesus passes by, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David.” Hushed by the unfeeling crowd around them, they only shout more loudly: “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David.” “Moved with compassion,” Matthew tells us, “Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him” on the road to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:29–33).

The plea of these two new disciples, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David,” still echoes as the throng escorts the humble king, mounted on a donkey, into the capital city with the cry, “Hosanna (Hebrew, “Save us!”) to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9). Entering the temple, Jesus plays the part of both king and healer, reclaiming God’s house from the “brigands” who have taken over its courts (21:12–13) and healing the blind and the lame who flock to him there (21:14).

But Jesus’ identity as the returning king remains hidden from the leaders of the people. Although they observe the “amazing things” that Jesus does, they can’t see past the disturbance his arrival has created (21:15). With rising anger at the children who now race around the upturned tables of the money-changers chanting the crowd’s joyous acclamation, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they turn in exasperation to Jesus: “Do you hear what these kids are saying?” (21:16).

In response, David’s Son can only remind these learned leaders, who have ears but cannot hear, of the scripture they know so well. “Have you never read,” he asks them gently, “‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” (Matthew 21:16, quoting Psalm 8:2). For as Jesus well knows, it is the God who has “hidden these things from the wise and intelligent” who will graciously reveal them to any who humble themselves as little children (Matthew 11:25).

As we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the way to the cross, may God grant us eyes to recognize him as David’s Son, risen with healing in his wings (cf. Malachi 4:2; Matthew 14:36), so that we too, as little children, may cry out in joyous trust, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Professor Ross Wagner, and the Wagner family


By Naomi Wagner 

He came singing in the sun, a shining light about him.

The hands of a healer were his, and so we honored him;

Little children sang before him in the blessed morning bright.

That day lives in my memory still. In his light

No sorrow fell upon us, nor the shadow of our fear.

But, worshipping, we praised him and with songs of joy drew near.


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