Palm Sunday3c
Meditation and Reflection

Palm Sunday: the Messiah rides a donkey

 

Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.

The Son of God, Messiah, the Hope of Israel enters Jerusalem on a donkey.

As we enter this Holy Week – the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian calendar – we remember that it begins with supreme joy as Jesus entered Jerusalem as the fulfilment of the long-promised salvation of Israel.

To the Romans, palm leaves were a symbol of victory and of military prowess. The Jews who greeted their Messiah were simply echoing this practice, perhaps drawing on 1 Maccabees where it is recorded that the people waved palm branches to celebrate the independence of Jerusalem and Judæa.

But what kind of messiah parades in triumph on a donkey?

The One who was born of a woman?

The One who was lain in a manger?

The One who emptied Himself in humility?

The One who was soon to die on a cross, where His grace simultaneously fuses the joy of his triumph with the profound sorrow of his death. The Passion Gospel is forever in the background of the Hosannas of the people – a people who could never have foreseen what would befall their Messiah just a week later. They yearned for a king who would proclaim Israel’s independence from Rome; they wanted a Messiah who would be their religio-political hero; they wanted a Jesus who would fulfil their religious expectations and affirm their political agendas.

This final Sunday of Lent is a time to pause from temporal concerns and reflect on the fact that little has changed in two millennia. Even today, those who believe in Christ want a certain kind of Jesus; a certain type of Messiah – one who will anoint a certain sort of leader or bless a particular form of politics or prosper a very particular war; one who will be ‘on our side’ against all the opposition, foreign and domestic. We seek a Messiah who will affirm our notions of truth and ratify our interpretations of Scripture; one who will follow us conveniently as we direct our own paths in this brief pilgrimage through life.

What kind of success, wealth, reputation or respect is represented by a donkey?

The person who humbles himself will be exalted. The humility of God in human form is expressive of the humility of God in Himself, and we are made in His image: ‘Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Phil 1:21); ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain‘ (2Tim 1:12). To make your own righteousness out of holiness, godliness, grace, religion, experience, and even of faith itself, is as legalistic and inconsistent with the New Covenant as it is to make righteousness of holy works. We can see but a little way into the nature of the soul and the depths of man’s heart.

Today is a day for humility; for reflecting on the fact that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem riding a fine chariot, or the Hebrew equivalent of an armoured Cadillac or Rolls Royce. He rode in on a donkey, like a humble peasant on a quiet mission of peace.

And these people who today shout “Hosanna!” no doubt include some of those who will soon cry “Crucify him!”. And all because they realised that the Jesus who rode in on a donkey was not the Jesus they had invented in their minds, for He had thoughts, plans and purposes which were not remotely in line with their own.

  • ‘Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes……’ (Luke 19:41-42).
    .
    How much more are they hidden in our day from the eyes of London, Birmingham, Manchester…..Exeter. God have mercy on us!

  • David

    Excellent article Your Grace. Thank you for it.
    Christian greetings on this Palm Sunday to all of His Grace’s communicants, whether Christians or not.
    Yet nowadays western culture draws further and further away from the truths revealed to us by God, as people imagine themselves above and beyond God.
    There is no God they cry, so little gods most have become.
    Ancient guidelines are set aside as people yearn to please their own imagined wisdoms.
    Now each man and woman can be gods, indeed increasingly each child too, as they set their own rules.
    But they will learn, sadly the hard way.
    God’s laws are set for our own human flourishing.
    Ignore God’s ancient wisdom and inherit the whirlwind.
    It’s circle of deadly devastation spins slowly now, and is becoming but faster, and faster.
    A few will heed, and a remnant, as ever in ancient Israel, will stand.
    Glory be to God.

    • Uncle Brian

      We don’t hear from you these days as often as we used to, David. Everything okay, I hope?

      • David

        Hello Brian. Thank you for asking. Yes everything is fine. I drop in on His Grace’s ever excellent site from time to time but I have reallocated my daily dose of e-communications, for a number of reasons.
        I hope that you are well ?

        • Uncle Brian

          Yes, David, fine, thanks. It occurred to me to wonder whether you’ve been busy with something that’s supposed to happen on 7 May. Helping out with the canvassing and all that. Not a candidate yourself, by any chance?

    • IanCad

      Thank you David for that quite profound post. And to HG for calling us to remember the sacrifice that sets us free.

      • David

        Thank you Ian.
        Sadly the secular project is well set on its course of devastation.
        I am in Wales at present, borrowing the village pub’s e-access for my father’s funeral. He was 95 so although sad, it was hardly a tragedy. My point is that after such a long absence, since 18, and only visiting for a few days every two months, as opposed to now spending short weeks with my mother, which affords me the time to really get inside the local culture, the contrast with the formerly strong chapel culture hits me all the more forcefully. The basic pattern is of course the same in England, and all over the west, with slight cultural twists. Sad, so sad, as the vast majority are on a road to nowhere.

  • Inspector General

    And what is wrong with a donkey? Ideal transport for the conditions. Your man would arrive in good state. The lads with him somewhat hot and sweaty at a time when personal hygiene was not easy to attend to. Had the messiah arrived by chariot, he’d have left the crowd miles behind…

    • DanJ0

      Perhaps there’s a metaphor for us all in the choice of steed. The man on top is leading them along with the temptation of a carrot but he has a stick for when they won’t do as he says.

      • Inspector General

        …and perhaps his choice of steed, if choice be between donkey and walking it, has no metaphorical connotations whatsoever….

  • carl jacobs

    First time a donkey. Second time a horse.

    • Inspector General

      Are you suggesting an inequality in the equine races?

      • carl jacobs

        Inspector

        There are two kinds of women in the world – women and horsewomen. And there are two kinds of men in the world. Those that react to that statement by saying “What’s a horsewoman?” And those who look at you with sad knowing eyes that say “I understand. You poor sonofab__h.”

        I married a horsewoman. So I can tell you with absolute metaphysical certainty that there is no such thing as equine equality. The ranking goes something like:

        1. Arabians über alles.

        2. Thoroughbreds/Quarterhorses/Lippizanner Stallions

        3 …

        … [Insert a long list of random breeds here]

        N-1. …

        N. Saddlebreds.

        But even the ignoble Saddlebred rates above a donkey. Referring to a donkey as a horse is an acceptable trolling technique but it comes at a cost. You have to decide whether the short term pleasure is worth the long term pain.

        • Inspector General

          Good Lord, you have been got at. Still, if that be the price of marital bliss, then one commends you for your patience in the matter…

        • IanCad

          I have to wonder where you come in on that list.

          • carl jacobs

            Why, it should be obvious. I’m the Lord and Master of all I survey.

          • IanCad

            Lucky man. I come in after our two cats.
            Now we have the neighbour’s dog and I slide further down the ranks.

    • sarky

      Thats if they haven’t all ended up in ready meals!

  • len

    But what kind of messiah parades in triumph on a donkey?

    The One who fulfilled all the Prophecies regarding the Messiah the prophecies no one else can fulfil….

    • Inspector General

      Could rename this time ‘donkey derision’ day…

    • Ivan M

      The donkey was no mean animal himself. The Mongols conquered the world on colts about the size of donkeys. Size doesn’t matter, and where it matters the donkey was up to it. General Allenby walked his way through the Damascus Gate to show his humility before Christ. I will do the same in Jerusalem if I ever find myself there. No taxis or even Egged busses.

  • preacher

    The humble Donkey, the steed of prophets & here is the one all the prophets from Moses to Malachi pointed to. Not a warhorse, that as Carl says is for the future, but a sturdy beast of burden for the one who would bear the burden of sin for as many as made Him Lord & Saviour. & the Donkey according to fable carries the sign of the cross in his fur on his back.

    Blessings to all, P.

    • Inspector General

      Steady on preacher. It’s just a donkey here your talking about. Perhaps they ate the thing when it was no more. They make good salami, you know…

      • Uncle Brian

        Just a donkey, Inspector?

        Fools! For I also had my hour;
        One far fierce hour and sweet:
        There was a shout about my ears,
        And palms before my feet.

        • Inspector General

          Now you’re being silly. One’s point is that no humility should be attached to Christ because he entered Jerusalem on a dinkey*. We are talking of a supernatural being here, far far above us wretched lot. (*Typo, but we’ll let it stand, as Linus would probably pronounce it that way)

          • Uncle Brian

            I see that I failed to grasp your subtle meaning. I take it all back.

          • carl jacobs

            Inspector

            Your failure to apprehend the most basic concepts of Christian doctrine is truly remarkable at times.

            no humility should be attached to Christ because he entered Jerusalem on a dinkey*

            The Scripture specifically says the opposite.

            This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,“Say to the daughter of Zion,‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt,a the foal of a beast of burden.’” Matthew 21:5

            We are talking of a supernatural being here, far far above us wretched lot.

            Again, the Scripture says the opposite:

            Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:5-8

          • Inspector General

            Thank you Carl. The main thing is that the Romans weren’t alerted to his presence

            .(Psst, over here. “Both accounts were written AFTER the event…”)

          • Phil R

            Carl.

            Despite being in the form of a man, many instinctively knew him as God and treated him as such.

            Not least Mary of today’s blog.

            My favorite.

            “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while
            you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

          • CliveM

            The king of creation, coming to earth to serve riding a Donkey.

            Reeks of humility to me.

          • Inspector General

            Rather simplistic interpretation of Christ’s coming, don’t you think, Clive.

          • CliveM

            Sometimes people over complicate things Inspector. I’m a simple man!

    • sarky

      A man bought a donkey from a preacher. The preacher told the man that 
      this donkey had been trained in a very unique way, (being the donkey of 
      a preacher). The only way to make the donkey go, was to say, 
      “Hallelujah!” The only way to make the donkey stop, was to say, “Amen!”

      The man was pleased with his purchase and immediately got on the animal 
      to try out the preacher’s instructions. “Hallelujah!” shouted the man. 
      The donkey began to trot. “Amen!” shouted the man. The donkey stopped 
      immediately. “This is great!” said the man. With a “Hallelujah,” he rode 
      off very proud of his new purchase.

      The man traveled for a long time through some mountains. Soon he was 
      heading toward a cliff. He could not remember the word to make the 
      donkey stop. “Stop,” said the man. “Halt!” he cried. The donkey just 
      kept going. “Oh, no… Bible!….Church!…Please Stop!!” shouted the 
      man. The donkey just began to trot faster. He was getting closer and 
      closer to the cliff edge. Finally, in desperation, the man said a 
      prayer. “Please, dear Lord. Please make this donkey stop before I go off 
      the end of this mountain, In Jesus name, AMEN.”

      The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one step from the edge of the cliff.

      “HALLELUJAH!”, shouted the man.

      • Inspector General

        Very good, you humorous arse…

  • The Explorer

    Was it a donkey, or was it a young colt? It may have fulfilled the prophecy, but the prophecy itself should then have given warning about the type of Messiah. I’ve never understood why the crowd (who turned within a week) should have been so excited about Christ on a donkey/colt. Either would have been a humble sort of transport for a humble sort of Messiah.
    A Roman leader would have been on a warhorse. A Messiah who meant political business would have commandeered one.

    • Inspector General

      Explorer, the crowd turned on Jesus in the same way many of us who previously supported Cameron have turned on that mortal. The promises made in advance of his arrival turned out to be inaccurate. For example, we were told we were getting a leader who would give us a say in whether to get out of the new Rome and one who would presumably cherish our countries social order. Jesus promised them eternal reward in heaven and not driving the Romans out and Cameron gave us gay marriage instead.

      • The Explorer

        Inspector,
        An interesting comparison. However, the crowd behaved as if Christ had promised them a political solution, rather than a spiritual one. But Christ never promised them a political solution, and the donkey indicated as much.
        If Cameron had put SSM in his manifesto and campaigned wearing an SSM T-shirt, and we had chosen to read ‘Defence of traditional values’ in defiance of what was there, and then got angry when he carried out his manifesto, that would be a closer analogy.

        • Inspector General

          The point is, Explorer, in an age of poor communication, the citizens within would have heard rumours of an amazing fellow who could do all manner of things and was making all manner of announcements. It can easily be imagined by those who had hope that one of these announcements was their forthcoming freedom from Caesar. The disappointment must have aroused anger that they had been duped, or at the very least, were foolishly guilty of deluding themselves…

          • The Explorer

            Poor communication is a good point. Look, the guy’s on a donkey so the Romans don’t get suspicious. That sort of thing.

          • sarky

            I thought it was because he came as a servant not a king.

          • The Explorer

            Servant first time round, king next time round. We can seen that. My point was about those who wanted him to be a king first time round, and couldn’t see the bigger picture.

          • sarky

            They had a different understanding of what ‘messiah’ meant. When that wasn’t fulfilled. ….. Well you know the story.

        • Anton

          Remember that Cameron leads a Coalition, not a Conservative government. Nevertheless…

        • Ivan M

          There could be more than one type of crowd. After all the near oppressors were the local bigwigs. The Romans would hardly have much interactions with the the street dwellers. They would just pass them by. The very poor are revolutionary material only insofar as their bellies are not filled. It is what we call the middle class now, that provides the Iscariots and sicaris.

          So just as every revolution brings out the street children with their free love and so on, only to be replaced by the iron hand of the reactionaries, a week later the bread and circus crowd were either too cowed or had been bribed away. Just as I suppose I would have been if I were there.

    • Anton

      He’ll be back on a warhorse: Revelation 19.

  • preacher

    I think it comes from Zechariah,Chapter 9, verses 9&10. a very prophetic book that is full of references to the expected Messiah.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Did anyone know that the name of the donkey was Mer Cedes.
    Arc Bishop Idahosa told me that.

    • Inspector General

      Was it really?
      By the way, was the thing on loan or had it been purchased. One can imagine a wealthy supporter helping Jesus out…

      • sarky

        Donkey-jacked!

        • Inspector General

          Isn’t there something else you could be doing with your time…

  • Anton

    The crowd started to change its mind the moment Jesus turned his donkey away from the Fortress Antonia where the Romans were garrisoned, and towards the Temple, to cleanse its courts. Imagine the gasps at the road junction in Jerusalem where it happened. But the crowds were willing to give Jesus a few more days to make good on their expectations that He would use his miraculous powers to kick the Romans out. Those crowds could have read their Bibles (ie, Old Testament) and deduced that the Romans’ presence was due to their nation’s less than wholehearted commitment to God and his laws – for God had promised Israel complete protection in return for obedience. It was this disobedience that Jesus came to offer a way to deal with.