Donkey Sunday

A little something for Palm Sunday.  I preached this last year, around the time of my A.L.S. diagnosis.  The sermon text is from Luke 19. Click here to view Luke 19:28-38.

I.  Conquering Hero

A) The Triumphal Entry story of Palm Sunday tells of Jesus’ last arrival in Jerusalem.  It reminds me of a scene from the Disney movie Aladdin.

  •  After the genie pulls Aladdin and his monkey out of the cave where they are trapped, Aladdin makes his first wish – he wants to be a prince so he can impress princes Jasmine.  Poof, he’s got new snazzy clothes, poof the monkey turns into an elephant, and the next thing in the movie is this triumphant parade through the streets of Agriba.  There’s elephants, camels, zoo animals, dancers, singers, soldiers, and in the middle is Aladdin, that is, prince Ali.
  •  What a moment for Aladdin – street rat turned into prince wanna be, a nobody suddenly become the talk of the town, on his way to the palace to impress Princess Jasmine.  Everyone smiles, girls swoon, the crowd cheers, what a show.
  • Aladdin has his moment of triumph – as Genie says later “Hail to the conquering hero!”  It’s an Arabian Nights Palm Sunday.

B) According to the story, Jesus makes his big entrance into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

  • That is exactly where the Jewish people expected the Messiah to appear.  Someone makes the connection, and suddenly, people began to lay their cloaks in the road in front of him – that was you did when royalty arrived, perhaps as an act of submission to the king.  Then people got a little crazy and began began to cut palm branches and wave them – they were rejoicing – they were celebrating victory and triumph.  The cry of “hosanna!” went up, and began to echo through the crowd.
  • “Hosanna!” – a cry of joy – “salvation to the Son of David!  Salvation to our God!”.  Hail to the conquering hero! The Messiah is riding in from the Mount of Olives, laying claim to the office of Messianic King.  Triumph at hand as he prepares to take up his destiny of saving Israel from its enemies – hosanna!

C) Yet, there tension here because the situation contains a note that is jarringly out of key.  By deliberately arriving on a donkey, Jesus’ entrance makes a statement about God’s kind Messiah, about God’s preferred mode of operation.  And it doesn’t match the anticipation of the crowd.

II. Donkeys

The crowd responded to Jesus like he was a victorious king because that is what they wanted.  They wanted the long awaited Hero of Israel who would give them back the power and dignity that they believed should be theirs as God’ chosen people.

  •  But Jesus deliberately projected a different image – an anti-image – because he arrived just like all the other poor people that day on an every day, run- of- the- mill donkey, with only some coats for a saddle.
  •  There is nothing brave and noble about donkeys, especially not a borrowed donkey.  The borrowed donkey was the transportation of choice that day because humility is God’s method.  Jesus’ “triumphal” entry on a donkey reflected God’s preferred strategy of using the powerless and the unlikely.  Jesus didn’t make his way into the capital city on a powerful war horse, exuding strength, because Jesus didn’t operate as a mover and shaker.  He didn’t hob-nob with the religious elite and power brokers, even though from human perspective that seemed to be a more effective way to transform the Jewish religion.  Jesus didn’t spend time cozying up to rich people, even though a little fund raising might have made things easier.
  •  No, Jesus rode in on a donkey, an animal of common, peaceful, humble pursuits, rather than the noble steed of a conquering hero.

III.   Lesson

A) The lesson of Palm Sunday isn’t found in the branches and coats that were laid on the road.  Instead, Palm Sunday is really about the donkey that walked over them.

  • The donkey represents God’s commitment to use weakness and humility to achieve his purpose, instead of the strength and power available in our world.  Humility is God’s choice because by using the weak, and unlikely, and wounded, and unremarkable, God’s nature is revealed – his glory, power, grace, love and mercy, because there can be no other explanation.
  •         That’s why God chose unsophisticated sheep herders to be his special people instead of the Egyptians.
  •         That’s why God chose the most insignificant members of insignificant tribes to lead his people, like Gideon and David.
  •         That’s why Jesus hand picked fishermen, tax collectors, and other no-accounts to pass his mission on to.
  •         That’s why Saul of Tarsus, probably the most qualified person in the New Testament, first had to be humbled before he was ready to serve.

B) How about yourself?  Are you a donkey person?  As a Christian, someone who has made Jesus the officer in charge of your life, you have a role to play in carrying out God’s mission in this world.  Are you willing and content to do that from the back of a donkey – metaphorically speaking – or, metaphorically speaking, are you still requisitioning the big white war horse?

  •  A donkey kind of person understands that how God’s purpose is carried out cannot be separated from God’s purpose itself.  A donkey kind of person isn’t interested in power, personal prestige, or racking up personal achievement awards.  A donkey kind of person understands that life isn’t about themselves.
  •  Following Jesus on the back of a donkey means often being unaware of having advanced God’s purpose.
  •         It means being content with unnoticed accomplishments for Jesus, instead of being highlighted in a feature article.
  •         A donkey kind of person understands that the reluctant phone call to express concern for someone, might be a bigger expression of God’s love than a picture in the paper of themselves presenting a check to something.
  •         A donkey kind of person may never know whether or not they made any difference in a young person’s life at youth group, yet they volunteer to help out next year anyway.

Among so many other things, Palm Sunday asks: Are you prepared to do the work of Jesus with the methods of Jesus?  Are you prepared to follow him from the back of his donkey?


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