19 March 2017

Lent / The Peaceful Saviour
Matthew 21:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Your message today comes from a donkey. Donkeys hold a special place in scripture, and they are around time and time again because they are pretty useful creatures, who for their size, are able to bear very heavy loads, and do not mind doing so.

We often think of donkeys as being stubborn, but that’s an old wives’ tale. Donkeys aren’t stubborn, they are just very cautious. They’re happy to do anything you ask of them unless **they** think it’s dangerous. They’re a lot smarter than horses, and I suppose I could add they are a lot smarter than some some people.

One person mentioned in the Bible needed the help of his donkey. You may know the story of Balaam and his donkey. When it was time for the children of Israel to cross from the wilderness into Moab. Balak, Moab’s king, wanted to keep them out. So he hired Balaam to curse them. But when Balaam went to meet with the king, Balaam’s donkey refused to cooperate.

The donkey sat right down in the middle of the road and refused to go on… because it saw something Balaam couldn’t see, blinded as he was by money. The donkey saw an angel with a sword blocking the road. She sensed the danger and forced Balaam’s foot against a wall, crushing it. Then, the angel moved on a bit further to a narrow place where there was no room to turn. So the donkey just lay down.

He dismounted and began beating the donkey with his staff, trying to make her go. At that point the donkey actually spoke to Balaam. She reminded Balaam that she’d been a faithful donkey. She asked him if she’d ever been in the habit of just stopping for no reason. Balaam had to say, “No.” That must have really been funny, a donkey talking to her master and him answering her back! Then, Balaam’s eyes were opened to see the angel and God scolded Balaam for his cruelty and foolishness. You see… the donkey was actually keeping Balaam from doing something very wrong.

Perhaps we could avoid the same mistake as Balaam, and learn to listen… to a donkey… to hear the lesson they have to teach us about our Lord. It all hinges on the fateful day when Christ rode into Jerusalem, and chose to ride on a donkey instead of riding in on a horse. There is a reason that Christ “chose” a donkey.

You see… donkeys have special qualities that have endeared them to farmers for centuries. They’re not aggressive, except when defending their young. They’re so naturally protective, they can be trained to defend sheep and goats, driving away wolves or thieves if they sense danger. Farmers find them helpful in halter breaking calves and horses. They have a calming and soothing effect on the other animals. If the donkey’s not afraid, neither are they.

And that’s not all. They’re so calm and affectionate, they make great companions for those with special needs–both physical and mental. And being cautious and sure footed, they provide lots of safe fun for children who want to ride them.

Now, many think that Jesus chose a donkey because it was an expression of humility, which I’m sure had a small part to play.

Others look at the fact that it was predicted in the Old Testament so Jesus chose a donkey to fulfil the scripture that read, **”Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”**

In this prophecy, I think our lesson is found. Christ did not come in warlike and powerful on a warhorse — he arrived gently, and riding on a donkey. The reason that Christ chose a donkey is because of things a donkey represented. The donkey represents peace.

Jesus wasn’t violent. Did you know that a donkey will always avoid danger, by it nature? A donkey would rather stop than put their owner in harm’s way, just like Balaam’s donkey stopped. Jesus protected us with his own life, just like Balaam’s donkey.

There’s more that might relate here. Donkeys don’t frighten easily. If a horse is frightened or hears a sudden loud noise, it will panic and run. But a donkey might trot a few steps, stop to see what the commotion is all about, and then get back to work

Perhaps Jesus chose a donkey because it’s gentle and finishes its work, just like he did. A donkey doesn’t run away when frightened, and neither did Jesus.

Another thing, horses were expensive. Important officials and army officers could afford them, but not most people. Almost anyone could afford a donkey. Poor farmers, traveling merchants, the king’s son — they all had donkeys. It was the Ford Kia of the ancient world, and it still is today. The donkey is everyman’s beast of burden.

In riding a donkey, Jesus was identifying with all of us, from high born to low, from rich to poor — Christ was reaching out to EVERYONE.

Christ’s choice to use a donkey may seem a simple one made without much thought — but the implications are huge. We learn something about Jesus’ character — and we also learn something about what we are called to do — three big lessons WE take away today about how to live and to grow as Christians.

**First, like the donkey** — like the example of Christ — we are called to deal with everyone peacefully — we are called to love our neighbours — we are called to love even our enemies.

Luke writes in the sixth chapter that even sinners can love people who love them, but it takes someone special to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who mistreat you. This is exactly what Christ challenges us to do in our everyday lives. Today, tomorrow — for the rest of this Lenten season — could we all simply make the decision to treat everyone with this kind of love?

**Second, in the face of adversity** — we are called to remain on the path of righteousness — which essentially means we never cease in doing what is right.

When we do what is right, it is pretty much guaranteed there will be obstacles and temptations placed in our way, but do we have the courage to do what we know or think is right — even when others disagree? There will be times when we may be seen to be as stubborn as a mule, but that is because we also see the ways of God, and the commandments of God, that many around us just cannot see.

**Finally, we are called to be inclusive and not exclusive.** Christ came for everyone. Christ rode in on a donkey to show that he could put himself on the same level as even the poorest of the poor.

If Christ could lower himself — is it not possible that we who are so much less than him, can reach out and embrace everyone — even IF they are different — even IF we don’t understand them and can’t always relate to them.

Christ died for everyone… and Christ’s church must welcome everyone. We must work hard as Christ’s followers to be the open arms of Jesus in a world filled with closed arms.

This Lenten season, I hope we can remember some lessons from a donkey, and work to become the followers that Christ would have us become. The next time someone calls you a stubborn old mule —take it as a compliment. Amen.