Puzzled wonderment fills the disciples hearts here on the Mount of Olives as Jesus sends two of them off to the village of Bethany to bring him a colt. Anticipation and expectations increase as they realize their master is going to ride this small donkey. Quickly, they throw their garments over the back of the animal and help Jesus get on. In no time at all a crowd gathers with palm branches. Some are waved in the air; others are thrown on the road. Activated within the hearts of the disciples is a roller coaster of emotions. Not long ago, Jesus had declared to them his divinity and had spoken of persecution and crucifixion ahead. Peter had remonstrated, prompting Jesus to rebuke him. Then there was the experience of transfiguration that overwhelmed Peter, James, and John. Peter got so excited that he foolishly proposed building three booths for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. God put him in his place, silenced him by simply overwhelming everyone present. Then later, maybe even a few days later, Jesus sends them into the village to bring back a colt.
As he rides into Jerusalem, the crowds gather, singing and dancing his praises. I imagine the disciples giddy with expectation: “Hope brightened in their hearts with the joyous thought that he was about to enter the capital, proclaim Himself King, and assert His royal power... Jesus now accepted the homage which He had never before permitted, and the disciples received this as proof that their glad hopes were to be realized by seeing Him established on the throne.” Surely by the end of this day Jesus would be the ruler of Israel. But as he descends the mount and first views Jerusalem, Jesus is overcome with sadness. His tears bring an ominous sense that all is not going as they had hoped. The certainty of their expectations begin to crumble.
In what seems to be another world, six-year-old Olivia was at her grandparents house doing her homework. She was to write a story. Minutes later she proudly showed the story to her grandpa. “Once a pond a time. I love you. The end.” Grandpa was delighted but also tried to tell her about the difference between a pond, and upon. From her point of view ‘once a pond’ was the perfect way to begin a story. Her certainty, gained from listening to many stories in her young life, rendered her unable to grasp the new concept of upon.
Olivia’s dilemma reminds me a bit of the disciples' puzzlement when Jesus first spoke of his coming rejection and death, and again when Jesus approached the city and shed tears for Jerusalem. All that was happening simply did not compute with their concept of Messiah. Jesus had told them what would happen, but their own ideas, their longings and promoted expectations, led them to grasp this moment with only joy and excited anticipation. Certainly Jesus must have changed his mind, or maybe he had simply been having a bad day when he spoke so gloomily before.
Expectations come from forming our own opinions about the things we see or hear in our experiences. They are nurtured by the longings and desires of the heart, and by the affirmation we feel when many people flock around and agree with us. The disciples heard it straight from Jesus’ mouth: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” But when they accompanied him as he rode the colt and remembered all the miraculous happenings of the last several days, their heart's desires took precedence. In their minds, they believed their desires were coming true.
I don’t know if Olivia yet understands “once upon a time” or if she smiles and agrees simply because she knows grandpa’s love. When and why did the disciples know and believe? Were their hopes derailed when Jesus came to the crest of the hill, looked over Jerusalem, and began to weep? Was there an acknowledgement deep within their hearts that the expectations they held for those short hours were not going to come true? Did fear enter their hearts? Or did they know and trust their master well enough to hang in there even when they didn’t understand?
Sadly, we know with the advantage of history that they were rocked by uncertainty and fear through all the events of Jesus’ last week on earth, and in the end they were found hiding behind locked doors. Yet Jesus was not finished with them. Post resurrection, he came to them, breathed on them, commissioned them to share the gospel. I believe it was then that trust began growing. And it continued to grow through the months and years the disciples served and suffered for their Lord.
I’m not six years old trying to write a story. I haven’t walked the dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus. I don’t have unrealistic expectations about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, because I have the rest of the story written in each of the gospels. I know of Peter’s denial and Mary’s mourning at the foot of the cross. I’m human too and struggle with hopes and expectations, built more on my own interpretations of the things I’ve seen and experienced—more on heart longings than on the truths of Jesus’ words. As we enter what the Christian world calls Holy Week, I pray for the childlike trust embodied in Olivia. I want to have simple trust that holds me fast in love even when my understanding is incomplete.
 Desire of Ages pg. 570
Delcy Kuhlman is the founder and director of Still Waters Retreat Center in Buchanan, Michigan. See www.stillwaters.org.