Palm Sunday 2020
Everyone was asking, ‘who is this Jesus?’ On Palm Sunday Jesus gave his answer. He said who he is and who he is not. But he did not give the answer directly, but in a way to make us think. He gave his answer in a living parable: in fact a hairy snuffling shuffling parable: a donkey!
So why did he come into Jerusalem on a donkey?
This is the only place in the Bible where we hear of him travelling by any means other than walking. In the story from the Bible he has just walked 63 miles from Galilee. Why does he get on a donkey for the last five miles into Jerusalem? And why a donkey?
He wanted to tell us something special about himself. So he was making a special entrance into Jerusalem and was thinking about how do do it very carefully. He was doing something ‘symbolic’. What does a ‘symbol’ mean?
A symbol might be something like this – a poppy. This reminds us of those who died in war, but if we were to show it to someone in first century Jerusalem, it would mean nothing.
So, the donkey was a symbol
So, why not a horse?
In those days, when a great battle had been won, the Roman emperor Caesar would ride into the city on a horse or in a chariot pulled by horses, with the defeated army as prisoners in chains all following him on foot.
But Jesus chose a donkey.
What are the differences between a donkey and a horse?
Donkeys are different from horses. Horses are herd animals. Donkeys happy with one companion. A trainer of a horse aims to become, in the mind of the horse, the boss horse of the herd.
Donkeys are more independent thinking. If you try to boss around a donkey, it will avoid you.
A donkey needs to know that he can trust you to protect him. You cannot force him to do anything in the way you can force a horse.
Jesus was riding on an unbroken donkey, a colt – an unknown animal, found by the disciples. A lot of trust must have been involved by the donkey of Jesus and by Jesus of the donkey!
So, a horse responds to power and strength. A donkey responds to persuasion and needs to trust.
Perhaps its simpler to say, many of us do love horses but you don’t need to love a horse to get control of it but you do need to love a donkey and it needs to trust you, if it is to do anything that you want it to do.
But also Jesus in his snuffling shuffling parable was referring to a prophecy.
A prophesy is a picture or impression of the future which someone had had years before.
The prophet Zechariah said ‘rejoice…Jerusalem. See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious humble and riding on a donkey’
So all the people of Jerusalem would have known that prophecy and would have understood that Jesus was acting it out. He was claiming to be their king!
Yes, a king of the Jews
But not like the Roman Emperors on horses but humble and riding on a donkey.
Yes, he is a king and our king but what sort of king?
Is he a king like Caesar the victorious general on a horse or another sort of king? Humble and riding on a donkey, a loving king?
Both Caesar returning victorious to Rome and Jesus on Palm Sunday had crowds of people worshipping them
It is said that ‘you become what you worship’. With which crowd do we most associate? Or perhaps worship is too strong, a word….In which crowd would we be surrounded by kindred spirits?
Do we admire pride power and success – the cult of celebrity?
Or do we admire humility trust and self sacrifice – the creed of Christianity?
Do we admire the celebrity or the saint?
Do we worship: the man who journeys on the donkey or the man who journeys on the horse?
Are we for the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Caesar?
Because, we cannot be for both, as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, no man can serve two masters…
I love the story of the Eastern European au pair who heard the children she was looking after were having a pillow fight in their bedroom and came in and said intending to say ‘What on earth are you doing’ and in fact said ‘What are you doing on earth?’
Its a good question: what are you doing on earth?
Lets use this period of isolation from others during the Coronavirus to ask ourselves these questions: who do we worship? What are we doing on earth?
Is our life focused on others, or on ourselves?
Following the man on the donkey is always a journey of humility, trust and self sacrifice, a journey of looking around and seeing what we can do for others, as Archbishop Justin says ‘seeing what we can do in the place where we are’
Particularly now in our very local area for the people next door. This is what is called ‘mission’: it Is being focused on others, on mission travelling on the donkey, bringing people with you, as they learn to trust you.
How we want to travel to our destiny? How we want to spend the rest of our lives?
Or would we prefer to be like Caesar, driving the horse forward to greater adulation by those within our power who are compelled to follow. Are we so tied up in pursuing success comfort or recreation for ourselves (the Empire of Caesar if you like) that we don’t have time for mission
(the Kingdom of God).
Now we know who Jesus is….what are we doing on earth?
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 19:28–40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.