based on the Gospel of Matthew 21:1-11
Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 9, 2017
It had been an odd sort of week, filled with unexpected happenings — but I guess that’s how it goes once you become a mother. As my master’s wife says, “Babies change things.”
My little Sarah certainly changed my life, almost from the moment she was born. Suddenly the master (people call him “Levi”) took great interest in me and her, telling his wife, “It’s time! This must be the sign! Now, at last!” Which was a completely silly thing to say, since my labor was finished by then: Sarah was already on her feet — a little wobbly, perhaps, but that’s to be expected! — and my pregnancy hadn’t lasted any longer than average for a donkey. But humans can be funny creatures.
Of course I was proud of my little girl, and glad to see that Levi was, too. But his reaction seemed extreme: within the week he was parading us through the village, and every day he would leave us on display, tethered to a post just inside the city gate. It was a nice location; Sarah and I got lots of pats and compliments — and who knew that so many people carried apples and radishes in their pockets! (Although you have to be careful about radishes; too many will give you indigestion.)
Every morning when the sun was just beginning to warm the straw, Levi would come into the barn and slip a bridle over my nose, “OK, girls! Let’s get started. This might be the day!” And we’d head off down the path and across the village square, past the interesting smells and tastes of morning: porridge, toasted bread, melons, grapes, tea and honey, applesauce… Those delightful fragrances that tickle my nose and make me lick the air. Yum!
But were are other smells: dogs, goats, cows, camels, cats. Cats — such unpredictable creatures! Take Lilith, for example: she will spend many quiet, companionable evening hours with me in the barn and then suddenly go into a murderous frenzy. You’ve never seen such violence! Then she leaves, carrying her victim’s carcass. I used to wonder she did with their bodies — until the morning the master’s wife fled from the house, shrieking, holding one of her shoes at arm’s length. A long gray tail was clearly visible hanging out the back. An odd burial practice, don’t you think?
Please forgive my digression, but the unpredictability of the world is weighing on my mind today. Lilith is just one example, but it shows up everywhere: what begins as a celebration becomes a cause for mourning, laughter turns to tears, joy turns into sorrow, friends become enemies, those you trust betray you. I’ve seen so much that I do not understand.
Anyway, after a week or more of “Today might be the day,” finally it was the day. We were in our usual spot — I was in a gentle, daydreamy half-asleep, floating along like a cloud, and Sarah was snoozing in the straw at my feet — when two men I’d never seen before came down the road. The shorter one, slim and dark and beardless, looked over at me and smiled.
Tugging on his friend’s arm, he pointed to us, “Over there! Aren’t they beautiful!” he whispered (remember, with my lovely long ears, I can hear what’s being said from a great distance). I liked him right away; clearly a good judge of …. donkey flesh — which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is much nicer than horseflesh.
As they approached I raised my nose, demonstrating my friendliness — as well as my willingness to accept a plum or three from the ones the older fellow was carrying in his bag. The younger man gave me an appreciative pat and told me to my face what a lovely creature I am (I told you this guy had good taste) then knelt down to admire Sarah, who was blinking herself awake.
And again the utterly unexpected happened. Instead of continuing on their way as everyone else had done, these fellows untied me and began to lead me back down the road along the way they’d come.
At first I was a uncertain about going with them, and was starting to dig in my heels, but just then my master arrived — later I found out that someone had gone to tell him that we were being stolen. And then another turnabout! As soon as he got there — panting, despite the distance being quite short — the older man told him, “The Lord needs them.”
Rather than being upset or trying to stop them from taking me, Levi clapped his hands together, “Yes!” he shouted, “I knew it would be soon! The Messiah is on his way!” Then my master turned and ran back toward our house, shouting for his wife, while the two men led me away — and little Sarah followed along (donkey infants always stay close to their mothers).
As we walked down the road, the older man said, “You know what this means?”
The young man (who was called “Thomas”) shook his head, “No, Rocky, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“It’s what the ancient prophet said about the arrival of the Messiah,” Rocky closed his eyes (which humans sometimes do, to help themselves remember things) and then said,
“Tell My downtrodden people
‘Raise your eyes from your lowly estate.
Look, your king is on his way,
riding a donkey,
the offspring of a donkey.’”
I nearly tripped — and that never happens. A king riding a donkey. Usually — no, not usually: always, invariably a king rode on a big, shiny, flashy warhorse snorting and stamping its feet; looking down on those around him, scaring small children. What a difference for a king to choose one of us from the peaceful side of the family: short, sturdy, sociable, sure-footed. Extraordinary!
It was at about this point that I began to realize how topsy-turvy the situation was.
Soon we met up with a small group of men and women camped near the road that leads to the Mount of Olives, like mourners preparing to ascend the hill. Despite my steadfast nature, I shivered; there is a strange darkness to that place where humans plant their dead. Even on the brightest summer morning a cloud of sadness surrounds it, a sort of grayness, as if the people buried there have cast their shadows back into the world.
Yet here, at the foot of the mountain of sorrow, there was a giddy, celebratory atmosphere. Instead of hushed voices and whispered prayers, the air was filled with laughter and loud songs. Innocent or ignorant or oblivious? To this day I cannot decide; I simply know that there was only One in their midst who understood.
Once, when I was little more than a foal, my master and his wife traveled to see her parents. Along the way we crossed over mountains so tall that they actually touched the clouds. When we came to an outcrop and looked down, there was a tremendous pull; as if the ground were calling out, summoning me in some strange way. That is the closest description I can give you to the way that Man affected me. I was drawn in; I wanted to be by his side.
This was the king Rocky had talked about, the Messiah my master had long-awaited. So different, so unlike what kings are “supposed” to be. He carried no weapons, wore no armor, had no soldiers or guards surrounding him; he was simply, gently, and beautifully a human being — in an amazing, indescribable way, at once fully human and more than human.
You see what I mean about “the unexpected”?
The same was true for the members of Jesus’ community: they were as unlike royalty as I have ever seen. They were dressed very plainly, in simple, everyday clothes; no purple, no silk, no embroidery, no jewels or furs. These were not the elite, not the powerful, but regular men and women; believing, joyful, and anxious to celebrate the coronation of this man.
And so we started out, Jesus — this astonishing, unexpected king — riding on my back, my little Sarah at our side, leaving from the foot of the mount of sorrows, heading to Jerusalem.
May the glory of Life surround and sustain you,
Shoshana the donkey (Shoshana is Hebrew for “Lily”)
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise:
How does the Gospel of Jesus turn our expectations upside down?