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1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.
3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately."
4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;
7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?"
11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
The movie Shrek (2001) stars a green, smelly ogre with a heart of gold named Shrek and his faithful companion the donkey who never shuts up. The voice of the wisecracking Donkey is Eddie Murphy and it seems like Donkey has most of the good lines. At one point when the donkey thinks he is dying, he says, “Oh man. I can't feel my toes.” Then he looks down and realizes, “I don’t have any toes.”
Shrek was so successful at the box office that they made another one, Shrek 2, released last year (2004). Many folks thought that the donkey was the best thing in both movies.
Of course, Shrek and Shrek 2 were animated films. Unfortunately the real animals of Hollywood films have not always been treated well. They used to be thought of as disposable props. For example, six horses were killed during the filming of Ben-Hur in 1924, and 25 were killed or euthanized during making of The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1935.
Then an organization called “American Humane” opened a Hollywood office to enforce standards for the protection of animals. In the ’50s, American Humane sponsored the first annual “Performing Animal Top Star of the Year” award ceremony. This is the Academy Award for animal actors. It is abbreviated as PATSY, which critics say is appropriate because the animals are usually patsies for their human masters. In any case, Francis the Mule was the first PATSY winner in 1951. Later winners included Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger and Arnold the Pig from “Green Acres.”
With that background then, let us think about another donkey. If the “Performing Animal Top Star of the Year” award had been around in first- century Jerusalem, the animal who carried Jesus certainly would have been a winner. This donkey is a PATSY.
Matthew tells us that Jesus sends two of his disciples into the village of Bethphage to fetch a donkey and a colt. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet Zechariah, “Look, your king is coming to you, “humble, and mounted on a donkey.”
Jesus enters Jerusalem as Zechariah had predicted, and a large crowd spreads cloaks and branches on the road in front of him. They greet him as their king, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
It is a Hollywood spectacular. As for the donkey, she plays her role as intended, and thus she is a role model.
The disciples certainly are not particularly good Palm Sabbath role models. They were still arguing about who would be the greatest among them (20:20-28). This whole trip made them nervous, what with Jesus talking about death and suffering. They may stand with Jesus now, but, in a matter of days, one will betray him and another will deny him, the rest will run away. The disciples had seen a lot, done a lot, listened a lot — but in the end, when Jesus gives them the faith test, the final exam, it turns out they do not have a clue.
But we should not be too hard on the disciples because we are much the same. We have followed Jesus for years now. We have sat in church, we dropped coins in the plate, we taught a class here and there, perhaps we even thought about God occasionally during the week; so, we say, with the disciples, surely we have done our part—indicating that we do not have a clue either.
But the members of the crowd are not role models either. They are worse than the disciples. They are curious, but not committed. In fact, their loyalties can be bought and sold. They are shouting “Hosanna” today, but soon they will reject Jesus and call for his death (27:20-23). The crowd knows the truth about Jesus but they cannot bring themselves to do the truth. They are like college students who make an “A” in a course on ethics, because they cheated on the test.
Jesus always attracted a crowd. People could sense something about him. They recognized that wherever he was something important was going on. But they really did not know what was going on. They came to see a show. Not much is changed in this respect. The biggest criticism of the modern Christian church is that it has become nothing but a show. Some of our mega-churches have full orchestras, and stage managers and every Sabbath is a full-fledged Hollywood production, which seems to suggest that the criticism may be pretty much on target, for some people.
Perhaps we can turn to religious authorities for role models. In Jesus’ time, that was a joke. The religious leaders were corrupt, mean-spirited, and jealous. To discredit Jesus they offered bribes, they solicited false testimony, they created a bogus trial. Finally, knowing full well Jesus was innocent, they condemned him anyway.
In our day, most pastors are caring, committed people, but the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church involving priests who have abused children cast all clergy in a bad light. It only takes one bad apple to make people think that all are bad. The TV preachers who are constantly soliciting donations to pay for their jets and mansions are another whole class of bad apples who convince people that all clergy are corrupt.
So, the disciples are no role models, nor the crowd, nor the religious leaders. Who is left? The patsy. This donkey is a role model because she carries Christ into the world. And that is what it is all about. That is the purpose of life: Carrying Christ into the world.
The name “Christopher” is derived from two Greek words, “Christos” and “pherein” “Pherein” means “to bear, to carry.” Thus, Christopher means Christ-bearer. The donkey was literally Christopher, Christ-bearer.
In our pride, we hesitate to take a donkey as a role model, but the donkey of Palm Sabbath has something to show us. We also are called to be Christophers.
There is on old Christian story about this donkey. I do not have a source for this story but it goes like this:
It was the next day. The donkey was still excited about the previous day’s ride into Jerusalem. Never before had she felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. She walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them,” she thought. But they just went on drawing water and paid her no attention.
“Throw your garments down,” the donkey said. “Don’t you know who I am?” They looked at her in amazement. Someone slapped her across the rear and roughly ordered her to move.
“Miserable heathens!” she muttered to herself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.” But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as she strutted down the main street.
“The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” she shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!” Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to her mother.
“Foolish child,” mother said gently. “Don’t you realize that without him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”
Just like the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem, we are most fulfilled when we are in the presence of Christ. Without him, all our best efforts are like “a filthy cloth” (Isaiah 64:6) and amount to nothing. When we lift up Christ, however, we are no longer ordinary people, but key players in God’s plan to redeem the world.
Notice that the donkey’s service to Christ consisted in doing what donkeys do. Donkeys carry burdens. But the donkey’s ordinary task was made sacred when it carried Christ. The lesson is that when we go about our ordinary lives, the ordinary things that we do are made sacred by bringing Christ into them.
Nicholas Herman was born around 1611 in Lorraine, France. He served as a soldier in the Thirty Years War. The atrocities he witnessed led him to become a Christian.
Later, he entered the Carmelite monastic order. As a monk, he was given the name Brother Lawrence and assigned work in the kitchen. He hated it. He thought, I have been a soldier, and I have decided to devote myself to God and I should be praying and reading the Bible and thinking high thoughts, but what am I doing? I am scrubbing dirty plates and pots in the kitchen. How demeaning! For ten years Brother Lawrence chafed against his situation. He was filled with spiritual anguish at this humiliating job he had to do. Then one day he achieved a major breakthrough and understood that washing pots can be a great thing to do—if you do it in and for Jesus. He was scrubbing those plates not because someone had assigned him a dirty job, but because that gave him a chance to make his small section of the world a little better, or at least a little cleaner, for Jesus, and thus he contributed in his own way and place toward realizing the kingdom of God. Lawrence now loved kitchen work. He said that he never felt closer to God than when he was peeling potatoes.
Often there is a division in Christian life between our profession and our lives. Everyone knows about this. Our accusers say that we Christians make a big deal about Jesus on Sunday, and that is the extent of our religion. Now, I do not belittle the importance of Sunday. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. It is above all church day, a day when we come together with other Christians to celebrate the love of God in our lives. But, certainly no Christian ever thought that Sunday was all that there is to our faith. Jesus Christ is the power of our lives 24/7. Jesus, as Brother Lawrence discovered, is what makes life worth living and work worth doing. When our work is empowered by Christ, it is transformed from mere drudgery into the most important thing in our lives. It becomes our contribution to the kingdom of God.
Back in 1942, Clarence Jordan founded of Koinonia Farm in Sumter County, Georgia. It was an interracial community before anyone had ever heard of civil rights. Jordan himself was a pacifist as well as an integrationist and, though he came from a prominent family, in the forties and early fifties, he was probably the most hated man in Georgia. The Koinonia Farm, by its very nature, was controversial and always in trouble. In the early ’50s Clarence approached his brother Robert Jordan (later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court) to ask him to represent legally Koinonia Farm. They were having trouble getting LP gas delivered for heating during the winter even though it was against the law not to deliver gas. Clarence thought Robert could solve the problem with a phone call.
However, Robert said, “I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why, if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
Clarence replied, “We might lose everything, too, Bob.”
But Robert said, “It’s different for you.”
“Why is it different?” asked Clarence. “I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”
Robert replied, “I follow Jesus, up to a point.”
Clarence said, “Could that point by any chance be — the cross?”
“That’s right.” Robert said, “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple,” responded Clarence. “You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”
“Well now,” said Robert, “if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question,” Clarence said, “is, ‘Do you have a church?’”
[Stanley Hauerwas, cited in “When we don’t ‘carry’ Jesus far enough,”June 21, 2004, Odyssey Web Site,odyssey.blogs.com.]
The question for us is do we have a church? Clarence Jordan said that if we are not willing to bear Christ into the world, then we do not have a church. In other words, he calls on us to make Christ real in our ordinary lives, and thereby to stop being ordinary folks and start being Christophers, Christ-bearers, donkeys. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05