Palm Sunday

Imagine that today’s Gospel text, that accompanies the blessing and procession of palms (Lk. 19: 28 – 40) the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem was adapted as a stage show, or perhaps even a full-length movie; the spotlight would most certainly be directed onto the person of Jesus. He is the central figure, he has the starring role; however, in directing the spotlight onto Jesus, another figure is illumined – the donkey! In fact, the donkey and Jesus share the limelight, and I would like to focus on the donkey. Certainly, Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem today, however it may not have been the first time he was on a donkey. Christmas images in art have a pregnant Mary riding on a donkey as she and her husband Joseph make their way to Bethlehem. Similarly, these images have Mary (holding the newborn child) riding on a donkey as she and Joseph make a hurried escape to Egypt. And we might well imagine that there was a ride on a donkey when the family made their return from exile. Donkeys carrying Jesus appear to be a theme.

In Orthodox Christianity there is a special title given to Mary – that title is Theotokos. The title is what we in the English language would call a portmanteau, that is a new word formed by fusing together parts of existing words, in this instance the Greek word “theo” meaning God and the word “tokos” meaning to bear or to carry. Mary is the “God-bearer”. However maybe the donkey is also – the God-carrier.

Maybe that is our privilege and responsibility as baptized women, men, and children – to become a donkey! To carry Jesus wherever we go! There is, however, one important element which is sometimes overlooked, the bearer at times tries to become the one who is being carried. A genuine donkey will stand and wait with patience until the Master has need – and we have no better example there than the original ‘Theotokos’, who carried when carrying was necessary, who let the Word go when the Word chose, and who in the end was ready to hold when the Word could go no further, known as the Pieta.

The Pulitzer prize winning American poet ( 1935 – 2019 ) wrote a thought-provoking poem with the title, “The Poet Thinks About The Donkey”

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
     leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
     clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

+ Mary Oliver


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