Palm Sunday / 17 April 2011
Pity the donkey. He does not seem to catch too many breaks in this world. Children pin tails on him. Moviemakers turn him into the buffoon. Story-tellers Eeyore him.
Originally from Africa, we humans have been using the equus africanus asinus as a beast of burden for about 6,000 years.
Even in the Bible donkeys have it pretty rough. In Numbers 22 the second-rate prophet Balaam beats his stubborn donkey after the poor animal wisely refuses to advance on an angel of the Lord who was standing in the path. And finally the donkey turns to Balaam and begins to tell him off.
In Jewish oral tradition it was prophesied that the son of David would ride on a donkey - but only if the tribes of Israel were undeserving of redemption.
However, in Zechariah 9:9, which is quoted in our Matthew 21 text, it is prophesied that the coming great king of the new Israel would ride on a donkey: “He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.”
That’s a triumphal entry?
I read recently the story of a somewhat modern-day “triumphal entry”. The splendor of which was mind boggling in any context -- and certainly criminal in its context.
On December 4th, 1977, the world witnessed the coronation of his Imperial Majesty, Bokassa I, in Bangui, capital of the (Central African Republic) which he had declared to be the Central African Empire. So therefore he needed to transition from being president-for-life to emperor.
The price tag for that single event was a phenomenal $25 million. And remember that was 34 years ago -- in the 8th poorest country of the world.
At 10:10 a.m., the blast of trumpets and the roll of drums announced the approach of His Majesty.
The procession began with eight of Bokassa’s 29 official children. They processed down the royal carpet to their seats.
They were followed by the heir to the throne, Jean Bedel Bokassa II - dressed in a white admiral’s uniform with gold braid. (By the way, the Central African Republic is landlocked -- no navy) He was seated on a red pillow to the left of the throne.
Catherine, the favorite of Bokassa’s nine wives, followed. She was wearing a $73,000 gown, strewn with pearls.
Then the emperor arrived in an imperial coach bedecked with golden eagles and drawn by six matched Anglo-Norman horses.
And as the Marine Band struck up the hymn "The Sacred March of His Majesty,” Emperor Bokassa strode forth. He was cloaked in a 32 pound robe decorated with 785,000 pearls and real gold embroidery.
He wore white gloves on his black hands and pearl slippers on his feet. On his head, he wore a gold crown of laurel-wreaths, similar to those worn by Roman consuls of old. A symbol of the favor of the gods.
As the "Sacred March" came to an end, Bokassa seated himself on his $2.5 million eagle throne. He removed his gold laurel wreath. And – like Napoleon 173 years earlier – he placed the $2.5 million crown - topped with an 80-carat diamond on his own head.”
Now that’s a triumphal entry!
(By the way, Emperor Bokassa was overthrown in a coup d'état in 1979 -- and in 1996 after he was released from prison he proclaimed himself the 13th Apostle and claimed to have been holding secret meetings with the Pope. He died soon thereafter.) Emperor Bokassa was a true showman who even though he was perverse and demented he understood the power of symbols.
In ancient times a king making his triumphal entry into a city on a big horse suggested that he wanted to emphasize his roll as a conqueror and that he was going to enforce his presence.
But a king entering on a donkey was seen to be coming in peace.
And, of course, as Jesus entered Jerusalem people were reading the signs. They knew exactly what he was saying -- and they became a crowd along the parade route and welcomed him as king -- forming a red carpet with their cloaks and freshly cut palm branches. They shouted “Hosanna” -- an action very roughly translated in contemporary vernacular -- “long live the king.”
Vs. 10 says --
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”The question is not, what is he doing or what is he saying? That is understood. But they want to know his identity. Who is this man coming on a donkey to assume the throne in Jerusalem?
And the gospel writers want to make sure that we understand that Jesus comes as a donkey king. This is the key point this morning, Jesus comes as a donkey king.
And about this time you might be thinking,
Well, that is interesting. But... ahhhh... so what? What difference does it really make that Jesus came on a donkey rather than a big war horse? What difference does it make that Jesus is a donkey king?
I’m not really into donkeys anyway. I mean, they’re cute enough. And I enjoyed Eddie Murphy doing the donkey thing in Shrek. He had some great lines. But I don’t really live in a world where donkeys mean anything.And that is perhaps true. But I want to suggest this morning that Jesus’ transportation choice actually does have some bearing on what is happening in our lives even now. Three observations -- or messages to us:
First, The donkey gives us a clue as to where the parade is going. That is, Jesus is taking the humble route to the throne. And the throne is a cross.
Remember all that "blessed" talk back in Matthew 5?
- "Blessed are the humble."
- "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice."
- "Blessed are the peace makers" and
- "Blessed are the persecuted."
He is on the way to the cross to make peace between the world and God. He is traveling as a humble servant to die for the sins of the world -- for you and for me.
And this is the event in which our lives are rooted and defined. We are cross-centered people. And the cross would not have happened if Jesus had ridden into town standing on top of a Sherman tank.
If you are serious about Jesus and his cross -- you’ll be enamored with his humble transportation choice. It is all a part of the same event.
Secondly, if we have a donkey king then it follows that we are donkey people.
We take the humble route into town. Of course, the temptation is to think in pragmatic and political terms. If we can gain enough power in society -- through wealth or politics we’ll be able to call the shots and in some way, shape, or form bring on the kingdom of God.
But that is not the way that Jesus operates. He could have chosen a war horse. He could have called in his angelic air force to implement a no fly zone over the world. But that isn’t his approach and it is not our approach as his followers.
The irony is that Jesus, the one who had ALL the power, did not attempt to save the world through the exercise of force.
We choose a different path of influence -- humble service -- with an emphasis on HUMBLE -- an area of struggle for many.
I saw a preacher on television tell his audience that they needed rise up and begin to live like children of the King of Kings. To him that meant an expensive ride, a private plane, a couple of mansions, tailored suits, and extravagant vacations.
And his logic was that if we are children of the king -- the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills -- the one who created all the gold and silver there is -- well, then if we really believe this, we should start living like his children. It is an indicator of faith.
And you know, there IS a certain logic to it. It actually kind’a makes sense. The only problem, though, is that Jesus’ ride was a donkey. Our king is a donkey king.
And that changes the way that we look at the world around us. That changes our orientation. When we talk about living like a king, we’re talking about living like a king who was homeless and moved about. We’re talking about living like a king who resisted the attempts of the crowds to force him into grabbing the political power. We're talking about living like a king who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Oh, I bet they were ever so hopeful when he triumphally rode into Jerusalem that day. And I bet they were ever so disappointed in how he did it. He was not fulfilling their dreams for him. And while they understood the prophecy from Zechariah 9, and got into the Hosanna thing, they were obviously looking for more out of him -- maybe a humble donkey pulling a Howitzer would have made them happier.
The point is, we can’t fulfill God’s agenda using the methods of the world. This is true whether we're talking international politics -- or office politics -- or personal politics. Besides we don’t even think that way anymore.
The apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:5-8 (MSG) --
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.The third message or observation for us is -- be encouraged.
If God uses a humble donkey -- consider that he might be able to use you -- even if you make a donkey of yourself at times.
We often sing the song Your Grace Is Enough. "Great is your love and justice God, You use the weak to lead the strong..."
So, you want to be used by God and you’re inspired by all the great biblical heroes. If only I could be like David or Paul or Ruth... Remember, though, that the common thread running through many of their stories is that they are all people who start out from a position of weakness.
They all have major deficiencies and some never get over them.
- David was a lowly shepherd -- the youngest son that was more or less forgotten -- no one considered him as even a possibility for the king job. He grew up to become a murderer and womanizer.
- Paul (or by his Hebrew name, Saul) was a murderous persecutor of the church. He had a terrible reputation. No one trusted him. And he seemed to have health problems including vision issues.
- Ruth was a poor foreigner -- a Moabite without a enough sense to return to her family when her Hebrew husband died.
- Rahab was a prostitute. Do we need to say more?
- Moses was a murderer on the lam when God called to him from a burning bush. And -- he had a speech impediment.
- Peter, on the other hand, was bold -- but he was also a bold flaky smelly fisherman.
1 Peter 5 is meant to encourage pastors but it can be applied to us all -- for we all have pastoral responsibilities and cares --
Vs. 2 -- Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3 Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4 And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
Vs 5 In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.I might paraphrase vs. 5 -- “God opposes those who think they've got it all together but favors the donkeys.”
I think our church needs a mascot. I mean, how many churches actually have their own mascot? And I would nominate the donkey -- the "MasterPiece Donkeys" It doesn't really have much of a ring to it does it? Perhaps it could be the "MasterPiece Asses." That's more to the point, anyway.
And Jack is thinking -- I hope he doesn’t want to keep the donkey at our house. (No, of course not, But I AM hoping you’ll house the camel we’re going to buy for the Christmas pageant.)
No, we could just get a donkey costume that Alex would wear.
You could stand out in the parking lot dressed as a donkey greeting everyone as they drive up -- maybe dance on the corner of Baseline and 27th Ave with a big arrow that you spin around and then point this way.
I checked on the internet and they actually have a donkey costume your size -- just over a $1,000 with shipping costs.
You know I’m teasing -- but only half so.
What if we became known as a donkey church -- a group not known for our size or cool programs or the goofy preacher -- but for our humility and willingness to take on the lowliest of people and jobs.
Might it be that the donkey riding king would be the most visible in such a context?
‘Look, your King is coming to you.Let’s pray:
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’
Gracious and generous Jesus -- we want to add our voices to the Hosanna parade. We want to acknowledge that you are truly the unique king and that your kingdom turns the world upside down. We want to have a part in that and in you. So we ask you to turn our lives upside down. Reconfigure and re-prioritize our lives and our goals so that you are at the center of it all. We acknowledge that we are fiercely independent people and that we have strong ideas about what you should be doing and how you operate. We acknowledge, too, that we are wrong a good deal of the time. Remake us so that we see things from your perspective. We want to follow you. You are the donkey king -- and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You are our Savior -- the one who died for us to bring us back to God. We sign our lives over to you -- lock stock and barrel. Amen.