Who will return the donkeys? Ever been given instructions before about a course of action to take? The next part is a narrative approach to the reading where the reading and the message/reflection sermon are intertwined, with the idea to insert ourselves into the passage. Bearing in mind, who will return the donkeys?
Instructions.They were given clear instructions from Jesus to move from Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, even though they hadn’t been there for long, and head to the village across from them. They say to themselves, ‘Can’t we just rest for awhile and catch our breath?’ He had chosen two of the group. It was a clear and bright day, with the sun was shining and some cloud was around. It was a great view from the Mount of Olives.
They’d been given a job to do to go to the village and find a donkey tethered and her colt, but how would they know exactly which donkey and colt Jesus was referring to? The logic is there were two of them on the job, with instructions with one to lead the donkey and one to lead the colt. As it would it be common to find a donkey and her colt tied together? And what if someone asks what they are doing, they think to themselves? But there was an answer for that as well, ‘ if anyone asks, what you’re doing (more than likely as we weren’t from the area), tell them the Master needs them’. Ok sure, has this been pre-arranged? Anyway, he was confident that the owner (they presumed) would send them with them.
So they headed to the village. Ah the smell of the market, fresh food and produce, the buzz of the place, the people, the noise, the haggling. Take a deep breath and imagine the smells of the spices.
Now this is interesting, donkeys are ridden by poor people, the beast of burden and if you’ve ever rode one you’ll know that their movement is quite different to a horse. Horses in the time of Jesus were ridden by the rich, the powerful, the elite. So Matthew is making a statement to his hearers about Jesus, remembering that Jerusalem is his city, he is a Jewish man, a Jewish Rabbi. But Jesus doesn’t enter as the powerful do, he enters as one of the many, who live on the edge. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Now we interrupt this message for an advert by Matthew drawing upon the first testament and quite prescriptive about telling Zion to look out for their King (from the book of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9-10) ….poised and ready mounted on a donkey, on a colt (hang on Matthew which is it a donkey or a colt? Only Matthew mentions two donkey’s and on this occasion sticks to the Torah quotation without adding any extra bits.
Back to the story. Upon their return there was a gathering of people. The place is abuzz with excitement. After all, we are heading into the celebration of Passover. The time of the celebration of the angel of death passing over the door posts with blood on them in Eqypt, and sparing the first born of the Hebrews but not the Egyptians. A cruel story of loss which doesn’t sit comfortably with us. From the story we know that eventually the ancestors moved from slavery to freedom, to new life and the captors made sacrifices for that to happen. And now the land is occupied with a foreign invader. Politically and religiously this is a time of tension, uncertainty and occupation. From what we heard later, as Jesus was entering one gate extra soldiers were entering another gate – for Pilate wanted to be certain that he could contain any potential uprising with force.
They followed his instructions and it became personal as they laid some of their clothes on the donkey and her colt, and others followed suit and began to lay their garments on the road as well. Ever been part of a crowd before? Now there was trust in each other that the garments would find their way back to their owners.
There is a small gathering and Kings don’t ride on donkeys, if this is a prelude to a royal procession? They do have to be careful as rumours and misinformation travel fast there. They don’t want Pilate to become suspicious of him or the disciples. What are these people expecting? A king, a messiah who would remove the occupation with military force? Jesus did represent the new way of thinking, being and action, of peace and justice, of a new commonwealth, but what did they expect him to do? This commonwealth he represents is so different from what they had, a brutal regime of compliance through violence and the common torture to death by crucifixion. He enters Jerusalem making a political, religious and social statement. What are these people trusting that Jesus will do?
Have you ever had expectations placed upon you, from others or from yourself? To accomplish a particular task, to do something or to be a certain way. It’s a hard road, and creates an inner turmoil to be moulded into someone that you’re not, or to loose yourself trying to be what others may want. Is this how Jesus felt at times, given titles and the expectations of others to do and to be a certain way?
As he rides or meanders along, some people had rushed ahead and cut branches from trees to wave and some threw them on the ground as a kind of welcome mat as people would do during the feast of tabernacles. Some began shouting, ‘Hosanna to David’s son!’, ‘Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!’, ‘Hosanna in highest heaven!’ Hosanna a Hebrew word , meaning ‘save us’. Is the crowd now making a political, religious or social statement? No wonder the city or some of the people are shaken and unnerved asking, ‘What’s going on here?’, ‘Who is this?’ No one wants any trouble, as we know what the response will be. And Jesus is given a title, but not the title of a king as he always rejected that title, and those who were part of this moving gathering crowd answered, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.’ They are learning to trust this prophet as he turns their world upside down, in a world that currently seems upside down, something that we can all relate to at this time of uncertainty and the unknown. Then, at the end of it all, they asked each other, ‘Who will return the donkeys?’ As they were trusted with their care. And they are important for the welfare of the owners. Who will return the donkeys?