Humble Jesus on a Donkey

Yesterday was Palm Sunday.

On this day, we commemorate when Jesus enters in triumph into Jerusalem. He is greeted with loud cries of “Hosanna!” as people proclaim Him the the promised Messiah. And yet this same crowd will be calling for His blood on Good Friday.

For today, I wanted to look at how Jesus entered.

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,
saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her.* Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
“Say to daughter Zion,
‘Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Matthew 21:1-5)

It is important to understand what the people were expecting from their Messiah.

God made a covenant with David that his house and his kingdom would stand firm forever. This meant that the Davidic Kingdom would never have an end. However, in the year 586 BC, the Babylonians came and ended the Kingdom of Judah. The people were very confused because the Kingdom had fallen, but God promised that the Kingdom would not end.

Through the insight of the prophets, the people began to understand that one day a man who was of the line of David would restore the throne and we would have the return of the king. And this kingdom would have no end.

David was anointed as king, as were the other kings that followed. Therefore David was an “Anointed One,” which in Greek is “Christ,” and in Hebrew it is translated as “Messiah.”

The common belief of the people was that this Messiah would defeat their enemies and give them freedom. They were expecting another David. It is important to remember that David was a warrior. One of the most important jobs of the ancient kings was that they would fight for their people.

When you read the word “superhero,” it may immediately conjure up images of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, or a host of others. That word implies someone who tends to be powerful and will use that power to fight and defeat the villains.

In the same way, to the people of Jesus’ day the word “Messiah” would conjure up images of a mighty warrior on a chariot, riding down his enemies, running them through with his spear and cutting them down with the strength of his sword. The were looking for someone to lead an army to defeat their enemies: the Romans.

If Jesus had entered Jerusalem in that fashion, it is almost certain that an army would have formed up behind Him and conquest would be achieved.

But Jesus did not enter in this fashion.

Instead, He entered on a donkey.

I asked my students to imagine that a parade is being thrown in their honor. At the end of this parade I asked them to imagine that they will announce their candidacy for President. With this in mind, I ask them what kind of a vehicle would they like for the parade.

Some say they want a limousine for the luxury. Some say they would like to ride in a truck for the power. Others say that want to ride on a tank because it projects military strength.

I then ask, “Who would like to ride in on a tricycle?”

Most laugh at this prospect because the image is ridiculous. A grown person cannot look commanding, powerful and strong while riding on a tricycle. In fact, you look a bit silly.

If Jesus wanted to project military might, he would have entered on a chariot or a stallion. Maybe He would have been carried on portable throne to show His importance.

But to fulfill what the prophets said, Jesus rode in on a donkey.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever ridden on a donkey, but you cannot look cool, imposing, or powerful riding a donkey. They are low to the ground and move in an awkward way. There is nothing about riding on a donkey that could make one look like a warrior.

And that is the point.

Jesus is not a warrior. As the Messiah, He came to defeat the enemy of the people. But the Romans were not the true enemies. The true enemies are sin and death.

By dying on the cross, Jesus defeats these enemies. He showed us a better way than the perpetual wheel of violence. He showed us the way of love.

By riding into Jerusalem the way He did, He was teaching us that love his a humble thing. It seeks not for its own glory. Real love accepts the humiliations that are often associated with love. Anyone who is a parent and changed a dirty diaper or cleaned up a pool of spit-up knows that love requires you to humble yourself to serve the ones you love.

And it is this humility that Jesus teaches when He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Copyright 2023, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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