When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21: 1-11
This is one of those very familiar biblical scenes. It's a great one for teaching children, I'm sure I first heard it in church before I ever read the passage. Many churches act out the scene on Palm Sunday, I know I sang about it in the first christian musical I was ever in (all together now...'Jesus rode a donkey into town, many folks came out for miles around...') The problem with a story so familiar is that we assume we know it and so we read what we think the text says rather than what it actually says.
Matthew throws a wrench in our whole image of Palm Sunday. Verses 2 and 7 say that the disciples bought 2 animals for Jesus to ride, a donkey and its colt, and that Jesus somehow rode both of them. The quotation from the book of Zechariah 9:9 that Matthew quotes in verse 5 is also slightly different from the old testament text.
But what about looking at this passage through contemplative eyes? What can we see beyond the slightly confusing narrative?
This year I find myself drawn to the colt and the donkey. Mark tells us that the colt had never been ridden before. An unbroken beast becomes the way Jesus enters into Jerusalem. That gives me hope for the wild, untamed, unruly parts of my life. The parts of me that seem uncontrolable may be the very parts that Jesus wants to use to ride in triumph upon.
Matthew's telling of the story places a donkey alongside the colt. A regular beast of burden, of service.
In the 12 step community they often talk how service keeps you sober.
I remember a time about 6 years ago when I was wrestling with depression (as I do periodically). One of the hardest things for me to do was to feel connected with God - and when you work for a church and don't feel connected to God it's easy to feel like a hypocrite. One of the things that helped pull me out was when I went with the rest of the Mercy Street Staff to cook and serve dinner for the women in the Santa Maria Hostel. To be honest I resented the extra work and preparation it took, esp as I was appointed head chef at a time when all I wanted to do was wander around in my black cloud and sulk. But there was something about that act of service that helped me connect with God when just about everything else I had tried failed.
The Colt and the Donkey.
The Untamed and the Helpful.
Both become ways that Jesus is carried into the midst of my life.