After Jesus said this, he continued on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
As Jesus came to Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he gave two disciples a task. He said, “Go into the village over there. When you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If someone asks, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say ‘Its master needs it.’” Those who had been sent found it exactly as he said.
As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “Its master needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their clothes on the road, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.
As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,
“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace on heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”
Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”
Last week we were in the Caribbean, in the Cayman Islands. The Caymans are a British Overseas Territory, so when we got off the plane and entered the airport terminal there were portraits of the Queen and Prince Philip, so as Canadians we felt right at home. We have a friend who lives there, so he has a car and is used to driving on the left side of the road, which I am not. He took us around Grand Cayman, down some roads where tourists almost never go, to see where many Caymanians live.
Our story tells us that Jesus asks two of his friends to bring him a colt to ride. The Greek word Luke uses here means a young donkey. I was reading a little piece on Donkey Theology, written by someone who spoke with two elderly men in Jamaica. One of the elders says that a patient man rides a donkey. The first lesson you learn riding a donkey is patience. If a rider is in a rush and wants to reach their destination quickly by forcing the donkey, the animal will hesitate, and move slowly, or halt. Patience is a virtue you learn from not struggling against the donkey.
The other elderly man points out how humbly the donkey carries its load. In the West Indies donkeys were, and still are, used to carry water, sugar cane, and people, and to pull carts, all over long distances. Donkeys and their owners know about weight. This old Jamaican man quotes from the Bible, from Mark 8:34, where Jesus says, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” In the West Indies, a donkey often carries two hampers, placed on either side of its back. It’s like a yoke, a burden to carry. These old men say that the donkey is a symbol of the cross.
Patience. Humility. Carrying the cross. All shown to us by the donkey, and all shown to us by Jesus. The donkey is not what we would think of as the most magnificent of animals. And look at Scripture, the prophecy of Isaiah about a man of sorrows, a suffering servant, a prophecy we see as fulfilled in Jesus:
He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance.Riding a donkey teaches patience. The donkey carries its load humbly. And look at what the letter to the Philippians says about Jesus:
He was despised and avoided by others; a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
- Isaiah 53:2-3
When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
- Philippians 2:7-8
Donkey Theology. The old men of the West Indies have a lot of wisdom pointing us to the donkey, an animal who is laughed at yet played and plays an essential role in rural life, a poor beast which with its load becomes a symbol of the cross. The donkey and Jesus are both humble, both teach patience, both are mocked, both carry burdens – the donkey whatever people put on it, Jesus the weight of everything we have done wrong. The donkey, such an object of ridicule, becomes a royal mount for the King of Kings, carrying Jesus down the slope into the city and his destiny: the cross.
That cross is waiting for him on Friday. The shadow of that cross reaches out to him now. We may want to rush right to Easter Sunday, to fast forward to lilies and coloured eggs and an empty grave and resurrection, and zip right by Friday and that cross. But remember the patience the donkey teaches. If you try to hurry a donkey, it will slow down or stop completely. We can’t race past Good Friday. This is one story, from Palm Sunday through Holy Week to the Last Supper Jesus shares with his friends on Thursday, through his arrest and trial and death on the cross on Good Friday, to waiting as his body lies in the grave on Saturday, before we get to Easter morning. One story. So much meaning: pain and joy, sorrow and mystery. Holy Week begins.
The photos are mine: Elmslie Memorial United Church in Georgetown, Grand Cayman, a congregation of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands; and cruise ships moored off Georgetown harbour, taken from Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach.