A Palm Sunday message, based on Mark 11:1-11, from a particular vantage, with a slight nod to the Talking Heads.
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of something big? Something huge? Something so much more than just little old you? Yes? And did you find yourself wondering aloud how did all this happen?
Maybe it felt like that Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime. Ohhh, that’s a good song. Maybe you found yourself living in a shotgun shack, or in another part of the world, or behind the wheel of a large automobile or in a beautiful house with a beautiful spouse. And you may ask yourself, in that moment, “well…how did I get here?”
And you may conclude, sometime later, that it’s the same as it ever was.
Maybe those are your stories, of shacks and cars and houses and spouses. Or maybe you have others. But me? My story is a little different.
My story is about being one of the unlikeliest of characters called on to do one of the unlikeliest of things in all of scripture. Who am I? Why I’m the donkey. And this is my story.
The day started out normally enough, I suppose when the unexpected happens that’s how it begins. There I was, at the edge of the city, tied near a door, outside, just minding my own business. And then, out of nowhere, two people walk up, untie me, and start walking me away from town. Egad that was scary. “Who are these guys?” I found myself wondering. Am I being stolen? This can’t be good.
But it wouldn’t be that easy for these two strangers to get away unnoticed. A few of the locals, people I knew, saw this all go down and asked the would-be thieves what they were doing. The two strangers called themselves not thieves but disciples, people that follow someone who goes by the name of Jesus. And this Jesus character wasn’t just any regular person, they said, he was divine. He was nothing less than the Son of God.
They told the locals that this divine being had sent them on a mission, a mission from God, to head to this village, to go to this exact spot of town, and to take this specific donkey. Hey, that’s me! Jesus needs me for something big they said, a grand parade into Jerusalem. And they promised to return me when this big mission was complete.
The locals listened to this explanation and talked it over amongst themselves. Surprisingly, they let the disciples walk right out of town, with me in tow.
Though still caught off guard with all that was going down, for some reason the disciple’s explanation comforted me. I realized, at least if they were to be believed, I was being borrowed and not stolen. What a relief! And that, after this mission was complete, I’d be brought back from whence I came. Then, once I was returned at least, things could get back to normal. At that sounded just fine to this particular donkey.
Now feeling somewhat relieved another emotion bubbled up within me, one I’ve struggled with for a while – self-doubt. Let’s be honest, shall we? I’m a donkey. We have a bit of a reputation. We’re known for being stubborn. What if I didn’t get along with this Jesus character? We may not want to go the same way. I knew that could create a mountain of problems.
But it gets worse, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this…I’m not even full grown! I’m a colt, less than four years old. Even more than that I’ve never even been ridden before. That translates into like ZERO experience for this big mission. Being small, short and inexperienced for the task at hand I felt destined to fail.
Why did Jesus pick me?
Shouldn’t he have chosen some grander animal, like a horse? Those horses are so tall, so strong, so regal. We donkeys have always looked up to them – quite literally. When leaders of this world put on a parade to display their power they like to go big. They like to strut their stuff. This is how it’s always been. In my day it was the horses that leaders went with, that was the icon of choice. In your day it’s the biggest tanks, the most armored vehicles, the highest rockets. The baddest displays of our weapons of war.
And yet, for this particular mission, for some reason, it was me, the young, short, stubborn, inexperienced donkey. What *I* had to put on display wasn’t exactly impressive.
These doubts, these feelings of inadequacy lingered within as the disciples led me to meet this mysterious man.
I must admit, meeting Jesus was nothing like I’d expected. Up until then I’d thought of God as distant, detached, and with a bit of a temper, at least when things went wrong down here. But here Jesus was, the Son of God, in the flesh, right in front of me, not distant at all. And the expression on his face? It showed no anger, no wrath. Instead I detected only kindness, only love.
Jesus must have sensed my feelings of inadequacy, because he provided words of comfort.
Yes, I was short, Jesus said, he knew that. He told me his burden is light.
Yes, I was inexperienced, having never been ridden before, Jesus too knew that, saying fear not. I don’t call the equipped, I equip the called, he said. And this donkey has been called.
Yes, my kind has a reputation for stubbornness, we don’t always want to listen to instruction. Jesus was aware of this limitation too. God can use anyone, I heard him saying, including the stubborn.
Not only that, but he reminded me that donkeys are known for being commonplace, for being humble. Those are great qualities he said, and with them God can use me mightily. What I’d always considered a personal weakness he saw as strength. Well how about that.
And he reminded me that God has used donkeys before. Back in the day there was a guy named Balaam, and no matter how much God tried Balaam would not listen. So God used Balaam’s donkey to get his attention, the donkey talked to him and said, hey, why are you kicking me? What have I ever done to you? And you know what? After that Balaam was so surprised he started listening to the Lord.
Now consoled, I felt better prepared for the task at hand. A new emotion came over me, one I cherish but whose occurrence is all too rare. Fear and inadequacy had now departed. Suddenly, amazingly, in their place I now felt completely, and entirely, at peace.
The disciples that brought me to Jesus then took off their cloaks and placed them on me. Jesus hopped right on my back, his feet practically dragging on the ground as we went – remember I’m pretty short. What a sight that must have been! As he began to lead I found myself not giving into stubbornness at all. Instead, I desired to follow, to take part fully in all I had been called to do.
As we approached town I noticed more and more people gathered, looking right at Jesus. What a parade it was, people lined the streets as far as the eye could see. And boy were they excited! Many spread their cloaks right on the road. Others brought leafy branches to the parade and placed them at my feet. In modern lingo you could say they rolled out the proverbial red carpet for Christ. What an honor.
Still others held on to their leafy branches, joyously waving them in the air as we passed.
“Hosanna!” they shouted!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
It was a grand parade, the passion among the people was infectious. They didn’t bless a person with those words. No, they blessed a king. And welcomed in a kingdom. It was a moment in time I’ll never forget.
We then entered Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple, and I was brought back home, exhilarated yet exhausted from the events of the day. As I dozed off to sleep that evening, this feeling of peace remained. Mission accepted. Mission accomplished.
I’m still processing all that went down that fateful day, it was a lot to take in. The people there at this grand parade seemed infatuated with Jesus, they treated him like a rock star. I wish you could have been there to experience it for yourself.
Yet human loyalty can be shallow, and fickle. We know what comes next in this story, and that part, at least for a few days, it isn’t too pretty.
I got to pondering the coming kingdom the people spoke of as Jesus entered Jerusalem, and think I’m beginning to understand. When he rode in on me that day it represented something the world hasn’t seen before or since.
All that stuff that normally comes when a great leader parades into town? This wasn’t anything like that. There were no horses, no swords, no shields. No tanks, no bombs, no AR-15s, and no missiles in sight. Instead, on display that day was the lifting of the lowly – like me – the commonplace, the servants, the humble. That day, in all it’s grandeur, was nothing less than pure joy.
And this kingdom Jesus ushered in? It was, and continues to be, a kingdom of peace. If you ask me that day represents nothing less than a snapshot of heaven.
Thinking back to that Talking Heads song, I used to wonder, well, how did I get here? How did I find myself in the middle of something big? But now I know, Jesus had it all planned out. And he included me in that plan.
And I used to think that, after this fateful day, that I just wanted life to get back to normal. That I wanted it to be the same as it ever was.
Now I know better. Because when you have an encounter with the Son of God, and are asked to help usher in a Kingdom of peace, your life can never be the same. Even if I could go back to how things were before why would I? I’ve tasted what life walking with Christ looks like, and it’s heavenly.
So often we see the Lenten season as simply a story of life, death, and resurrection. And it is all of that, of course. And all that matters, deeply, of course. But nestled in this time-worn narrative, less than a week before Good Friday is a story of Jesus and a donkey. It’s a story of disciples and throngs of people, palm branches and a carefully orchestrated parade. It’s a story of unfathomable joy, unfathomable peace. Yes, this well-attended, high energy peaceful display was a threat to the powers that be. It was a threat then, and it continues to be today. Peace is radical. Peace can be costly.
Yet God called me, a short, inexperienced, stubborn donkey to help usher in this kingdom of peace. And God calls you, whoever you are, with whatever limitations you may think you have, God calls you to help usher in this same kingdom of peace. How shall you respond? If you take up this call to follow, as I did, let me tell you something from one who knows. If you follow the Prince of Peace, despite the darkness this world contains, your life will never, ever be the same. Amen.