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DONKEY SENSE
By Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday 18th March, 2012

John 12: 12 - 16

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

‘Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—

   the King of Israel!’

14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:

15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.

Look, your king is coming,

   sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

 

Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 19 - 29

A Song of Victory

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

   his steadfast love endures for ever!

2 Let Israel say,

   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’

 

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,

   that I may enter through them

   and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;

   the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me

   and have become my salvation.

22 The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing;

   it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 This is the day that the Lord has made;

   let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!

   O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

   We bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 The Lord is God,

   and he has given us light.

Bind the festal procession with branches,

   up to the horns of the altar.

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;

   you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

   for his steadfast love endures for ever.

 

Poor Dave the Donkey! Here he was all the time thinking that Jesus was heading for the big time! What did he think he was? A war horse? That’s what kings rode on in Jesus’ day, not on donkeys!

And alongside him was his grandfather who was thinking something altogether different.

Dave had one way of looking at the story and he hadn’t the faintest idea that there was an altogether different way of looking at it.

We might think that Dave was a bit silly not to realise sooner that Jesus was not going to be a big deal earthly king, but are we that much different from Dave? Sometimes I wonder.

We all make mistakes and that’s because we have to make so many choices. At every moment of every day, we make choices.

We choose when to get up, how to ablute, what to eat for breakfast, what to wear and how to spend the day. As we end one thing we choose another.

We also make choices about things that are less obvious. We choose what to think, and how to respond to the things other people say and do. We do a lot of choosing  each day and we live with the consequences of those choices. 

Back to Palm Sunday, where Jesus makes a choice. He chooses to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. That much Dave had right.  A donkey!?  Yes, a donkey. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is entering like a conquering king. They call him a king. Palm branches (signs of victory) are waved. The people are shouting “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” The whole atmosphere is charged with political tension because he is both behaving like, and is received as, the expected Messiah who is to save Israel from their enemies – in this case the oppressing Romans. Why does he then choose a donkey? Why not a big, powerful battle horse, snorting and trampling the ground? That would have looked good! Yes it would have, but Jesus chose a donkey.

And there’s something else that doesn’t sound right. Why is it that a few short days later these same crowds are yelling “Crucify him!”? Why is it that Jesus, far from defeating the Romans, gives himself into the hands of his enemies for a cruel death on a cross? Did Jesus make the right choice?

Or did the Palm Sunday crowds miss something? Does the bible not also refer to the Messiah as “humble and riding on a donkey”?

What of all those Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah? Had they not read them too? What of those Messianic Psalms which speak of the Messiah’s suffering? What of those passages which indicate that God’s priority is peace-making and that the golden future would involve turning spears into pruning hooks? What of Jesus’ own words which spoke of his dying? Had the crowds been fooled into thinking Jesus was going to be a political king because that was what they wanted?

Most of those in the enthusiastic crowd lining the road into Jerusalem would have been blind to the fact that there was another way of seeing things. And it was an alternative that led to a cross. That beyond the cross lay a resurrection, and that in the benefits of that resurrection lay a glory that outshone and out-performed  their small vision for temporary relief from Roman oppression.

You’ve heard of horse sense? It means common sense, the rational thing to do. Well, Jesus seems to work on donkey sense. He does things differently.

I once had a race against a donkey. It was up the precipitous Sani Pass which is a track leading up the Drakensberg mountains into Lesotho. The donkey had a bag of maize meal and I had a mountain bike. There were 6 of us and only 2 of us beat the donkey! On a really steep track a donkey can accelerate and sustain its pace, I assure you. Sometimes donkey sense is the way to go, but the crowds watching Jesus enter Jerusalem were operating on horse sense – they wanted Jesus to be a military leader and they couldn’t see that he was something very different. They saw the donkey but didn’t get the message.

And we can be like that too – blinded to the fact that in many instances God has something different, something which may look and feel very much like a cross to us, and blind too to the resurrection that lies beyond that cross. Are we short-sighted, unable to see that in God and in God’s agenda lies our greatest benefit? Going up Sani Pass I was blind to the ability of that donkey and had to really push to stay ahead of it.

We take palm leaves and we turn them into crosses. We take the symbols of military victory and we turn them into a reminder that Jesus chose the way of self-sacrifice – a way that leads to greater blessing than any alternative we might conjure up.

What are the choices you exercise in your life? How on the lookout are you for godly alternatives which paradoxically bring  much greater blessing in the end?

That’s what God wants from us: sensitivity to his agenda. There may be the odd occasion when what God wants lines up perfectly with what we naturally want. But mostly God goes by donkey. And that ride leads to the cross.

But here’s the thing – on the other side of the cross lies the resurrection and that is a much better place to be in the long run.

And finally, don’t be fearful of choosing God’s agenda. It’s not all delayed gratification – suffering for future glory. Listen to this extract from Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap Over a Wall: One of the reasons that Christians are dispersed in the world is to recover a life for others and practice a priesthood of all believers – connect with others in an earthly … compassion so thoroughly that no expert or professional can ever again bluff us into passivity or consumerism.

… Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28 – 30, The Message)

God bless you as you make the choices in your life.

Amen.

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