The Donkey’s Tale

by Joyce Mak

Holy Week Sermon for March 26, 2013
preached at Wine Before Breakfast

I don’t understand.
I don’t understand how it all went wrong.
How could such a good man be betrayed like this?
We thought He was the One.

How it all started for me was like this:

It was a normal day like any old day.  My mom and I were standing where we usually stand, eating what we usually eat.  And then two men came up to me and began untying me from my post.

My owners rushed over immediately and asked them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”

The men replied, “The Lord has need of it.”

And with those words, the men simply led me away.  Away from my home, away from what I’d always known.  I had no idea where I was going.  I had never seen these men before, these unfamiliar faces – would I be beaten like the other animals?  Would I ever return to my owners?  Certainly, they were not kind, but at least I knew them.  Who were these men?

But soon I met him.  He walked right up to me with such gentleness and kindness in His eyes, yet His gaze also pierced right through me as though He could truly see me and know me.  There was a flicker of recognition so deep within me as if I had always known Him and had been waiting for Him.  The two men shouted to him, “Jesus, we found the colt you talked about!”  Found?  As though he knew I was there?  Had I been waiting for Him?  Had He been waiting for me? 

Suddenly, I felt something soft and heavy land on my back.  I turned and looked.  A cloak?  And then another one came flying over.  Within moments, the man was seating himself on my back.  Every instinct in my body wanted to buck off these cloaks and this man and I’d seen many of my older friends do precisely that.  But there was something about this man, something that made me want to bear his load, made me want to have him ride on my back.

We wandered down the Mount of Olives towards Jerusalem and as we went, I could hardly believe the transformation of the crowd.  Joyfully, elatedly, the people threw off their cloaks and lay them before us.  Branches were torn off trees and waved around.  With jubilation, the people cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

King? I wondered. What kind of king would sit on a donkey like me? Where were the stallions or even the horses with bells on them inscribed with the words ‘Holy is the Lord’?  I’d seen the leaders of men ride by on their mighty war horses, or in their shiny chariots.  Riding a donkey?  That was reserved for farmers.  Donkeys are beasts of burden, and usually the burden is heavy, but not of great consequence. No no, the people must be mistaken.  This man couldn’t possibly be a king.

But then the realization hit me with full force.  I remembered once, standing outside a synagogue one Sabbath and hearing words from the Torah being read, words from the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Those words had rung through my head at the time because I thought the image of it was so silly – a king on a donkey.

But if I was that donkey, then the man on my back must be our king.  This Jesus on my back must be the Messiah all creation had been waiting for, groaning for.

Some men refused to join in the celebration and even told Jesus to rebuke his disciples.  But Jesus just said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  And I knew that he was right.  If a donkey like me could recognize the one who comes to redeem all of creation, then why wouldn’t the stones also recognize him and sing praise?  Our king, our Messiah, was finally here!

Then the mood shifted again as abruptly as it did before.  As we neared Jerusalem, Jesus began weeping, heaving sadness with His entire body.  What happened?  Why was he so sad? And looking towards the city, he said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.  And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Peace? Visitation?  Could Jesus be referring to the coming of His Kingdom?  How could they not know that the kingdom was already here?  I mean, our king has finally arrived.  What more did they want?  Here was our king to usher in a kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy.  Why would it be hidden from them?  And if he is the coming king, then what does he mean with all this talk of enemies and the city being under siege?  This was all so confusing.  Why is the arrival of the king accompanied by such devastating language of judgment?

As we parted ways and I returned to the courtyard, I only heard snatches of what was happening.  Apparently he had stormed through the temple enraged, overturning tables, opening cages.

At that time he had shouted, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’”

Why was Jesus so angry?  Was He really the same loving and humble man who had sat on my back?  The same man with the kind and knowing eyes?  I didn’t understand.

A couple of days later, Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives with his disciples at night.  In agonizing, blood-sweating prayer, our king prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Whatever this cup was, it sure seemed quite painful to carry.  And whose will was he talking about? What was going on?  He could give me that cup.  If I could carry him, then surely I could carry his cup, and I would do so willingly.

In the garden, a crowd of people had surrounded Jesus and a man named Judas stepped forward and kissed him on the cheek.

Jesus looked the man in the eyes and asked, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

In a flurry of motion and swords raised, Jesus’s voice was heard saying, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me.  But this is your hour and the power of darkness.”  And as he was handed over and they took him away, all that could be seen and felt was a deep and overpowering darkness.

Thirty pieces of silver.

I heard he was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.
The price of a slave accidentally gored to death by an ox.

I don’t understand how our king could be betrayed with thirty pieces of silver.

As if humanity could be bought and sold.
As if divinity could be lost with a cost.

But what do I know?  I’m just a donkey after all.

Maybe we’re all just donkeys.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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