Don’t Forget who Carried Jesus on Palm Sunday
Don’t Forget who Carried Jesus on Palm Sunday
By Pastor Gary Lewis
Palm Sunday is March 28 and is named for the “leafy branches” that people cut in the fields and placed on the road in front of Jesus (See Mark 11:8). It’s the day we recall the crowds shouting “Hosanna” and Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph, hailed as “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Mark 11:9). Palm Sunday is a day of celebration, with people cheering the One they hoped would usher in “the kingdom of our ancestor David!” (Mark 11:10).
What we usually don’t think about is the colt that Jesus rode into town, described in Matthew as “the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:4) and in John as a “donkey’s colt” (12:15). Most folks, when they think of a donkey, consider the animal to be stupid, stubborn and lowly.
I remember participating in a “donkey basketball game” at the local high school for a charity event. The idea was to ride these donkeys around the court, pass the ball, and attempt to score. It was a nightmare. My donkey did not move. Ever. The. Entire. Game.
In reality, though, such donkey experiences are far from the norm in Jesus’ day. Donkeys are extremely intelligent creatures. Entire trade routes were built on donkeys and ancient Egypt depended on them. Jesus knew what he was doing when he made his preparations to enter Jerusalem. He sent two of his disciples ahead of him, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you and immediately as you enter it, you find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it” (Mark 11:1-2). Was Jesus taking his chances with an unbroken colt? He knew that the animal was intelligent, not stupid.
Sure enough, the disciples went into the village and found a colt in the street, just as Jesus predicted. And as they were untying it, people confronted them, just as Jesus said they would. When they told them what Jesus had said, the people allowed the disciples to take it. The donkey was cooperative, not stubborn. (Mark 11:4-6)
In ancient times, leaders would ride donkeys in civil processions and horses in military ones, so a king arriving on a donkey would indicated that he was arriving in peace. Jesus remembered that Solomon had been riding a donkey when he was recognized as the new king of Israel (1 Kings 1:33). The donkey was noble, not lowly.
I think Palm Sunday should be renamed “Donkey Sunday.” When we take the time to recognize the animal who carried Jesus on his back into Jerusalem, igniting the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, we can find a formula for how we ought to serve our Lord. We serve God with intelligence, a cooperative spirit and with nobility. Allow me to explain.
Another word for intelligence is curiosity. Curiosity is the basis for all knowledge. Where does our curiosity come from? It comes from God, our creator. In other words, the curiosity instilled in us about how the universe works can inspire even greater awe of the creator. We should make our decisions with God-given curiosity and intelligence.
We are certainly called by God to be committed to the foundations of our faith, holding fast to our belief that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” We will be remembering this line from the Apostles’ Creed throughout the season of Lent, a spiritual preparation for Easter. But being committed is not the same thing as being stubborn. We should take actions that are cooperative, not adversarial. We can work alongside people of different faiths, as well as people of no faith, to feed the hungry at the food pantry. We can work alongside people who think differently than we do to help the needy.
Finally, we serve our Lord as people with God-given nobility. Like the donkey who carried Jesus, we can walk through the world with confidence and grace. ‘You are a chosen race,” said Peter in his first letter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” As God’s royal people, you should hold your heads high and never feel that you are a second-class citizen in this world. But this standing is not intended to make you feel superior to others. Instead, it is a status designed for service, “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Intelligent, cooperative, noble. That’s the character of Jesus’ donkey on the day Jesus’ arrived in Jerusalem. It is also the qualities of Christians who want to carry Jesus forward in what they think, do, and say.