Reflection 4/12: Why a Donkey?
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
Let’s agree on the fact that no grownup looks dignified on the back of a donkey.
I keep that fact in mind every Palm Sunday. One biblical theologian that has shaped my thinking immeasurably asks us to consider the gospel as comedy—we might also use the word farce. It’s almost as if God, in the story of Jesus, is playing a joke on us.
Tote it up: Mary with an unexplainable pregnancy. Nazareth being a backwater, no-account town. Jesus being a carpenter, which on the pecking order was beneath almost any other way of making a living, no matter how skilled he was. Everyone with power was against him. Crucified in an act of political and theological terror. His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was almost the least of the monumentally absurd aspects of the Jesus story.
And yet, no more consequential person has drawn breath in human history. Jesus literally changed everything. One doesn’t even have to believe in the divinity of Jesus to admit to the towering fact of his influence and brilliance. Rearrange some of the details of his life, it doesn’t really make much difference. His is still the most epic biography of the estimated 100 billion people who’ve ever lived, from the beginning until the present.
The standard Palm Sunday anthem is “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” It is grand and triumphal. It tries to put a scrim around the donkey–an inconvenient image. Jesus came into Jerusalem how…?! Are you kidding?!
Holy Week is the most consequential several days in all of human history. I believe this is not something that is a scandal—though it is. Rather, I think this is the wisdom of fools. And humans can surely be foolish. The most honest truth is often couched in absurdity.
A donkey: How absolutely perfect.
Click here to read a Palm Sunday sermon from American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner