Today is Palm Sunday, a day which carried more significance back when I was Catholic, but it’s still important. It commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the week before he was arrested, tried, killed, and resurrected. All four Gospels tell the tale of our Lord riding into town on the colt of an ass, as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (KJV)
For Christians, the image of our King doesn’t depict him riding forth on a mighty warhorse, decked in riches with an arsenal of weapons. As usual, Jesus turns all the expectations upside down and enters the city riding the humblest of creatures, with other people’s cloaks for a saddle. And as it turned out, he wasn’t the King they were expecting when they welcomed him with hosannas and palm branches. Spoiler alert: Jesus is the hero we need, not the one we deserve.
There are a million commentaries out there about Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. Countless treatises have been shared for centuries on all the associated Old Testament references, all the minutely-examined symbolisms, and how it fits into the various liturgical observances. Palm Sunday is an official Big Deal for millions of Christians of assorted denominational flavors.
Me, I just like to think about the donkey.
Equus africanus asinus has been a familiar beast of burden for thousands of years. Humans have made extensive use of this notoriously stubborn critter; it makes a great pack animal and has enough strength for draft and agricultural work. But historically the ass hasn’t been known much as an heroic figure. Let’s face it: the poor thing’s name is an insult.
Today, I was reminded of how the donkey is something of a black sheep, just like yours truly. While not an outright pariah, the ass has been portrayed for centuries as comedic at best, ornery and stupid at worst, and always contrasted against the beauty and majesty of its more popular cousin, the horse. Like me, it has been accepted only insofar as it does what it’s told; like me, it’s otherwise something of an outcast.
There’s a wonderful old poem by G.K. Chesterton that popped back into my head this morning:
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
As far as I can recall, I’ve never met a donkey in person. All I’ve seen are pictures and videos. I don’t have a particular affinity for the beast; when I was a kid, I was obsessed with baby harp seals. Nowadays I have a bit of an overfondness for gators, weasels, and giant Malamute puppies. Unlike many little girls, I never went through a “horse/pony phase.” Donkeys are pretty much not on my radar.
Nevertheless, whenever I read the above poem, I get a little teary-eyed.
Yes, really. Yeah, I know.
That day in Jerusalem, the crowds were cheering for Jesus, not the donkey. That’s as it should be; Jesus is the one deserving of all the praise. But I can’t help but think about the lowly creature he was riding. How must it have felt to have been surrounded by people singing and cheering all around, for just that one short hour?
It’s just a fancy, but I like to think of Jesus patting the donkey’s neck, stroking its ears, and murmuring soft words of encouragement. I know it’s only a sentimental reverie; no such sweet little sidebar exists in the Bible. But based on what we do see throughout Scripture, I think it’s safe to believe that Jesus had a soft spot for animals when he was in his human form. In fact, going back to the beginning of creation in Genesis, when God crafted every living thing from great whales to fowl to “every thing that creepeth upon the earth,” it says over and over: “God saw that it was good.” Countless verses talk about God’s love and pride in his creations, and how every living thing exists to give him praise.
So I don’t think it’s far-fetched or unbiblical to suggest that Jesus cared about that donkey, just as he notices and cares about the fall of every sparrow. And Matthew 10:31 adds:
Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (KJV)
It warms my heart to know that Christ can still use me, and WANTS to, no matter how little everyone else may think of my life.