HW Day 1: Palm Sunday and the Donkey God

A short reflection for each day of Holy Week

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.




Not a stallion.

Not a respectable steed at all, but a donkey.

As "triumphal entries" go, this one actually falls a bit flat. Shouldn't the God of the universe ride in on a dragon or something?

King David's victory processions were proper for his station: horses, hordes of soldiers. He really knew how to celebrate a moment of triumph. But not Jesus.

No, the God-made-flesh rode a beast hardly suited to carry luggage. A lesser, unclean thing.

He came without fanfare, without any real trappings of divinity.

Think about it though: how else would you enter a town if you knew you would not make it out alive?

Yet today we call it "triumphal", which is all well and good, but only if we can recognize the irony, the tongue-in-cheek nature of it all.

I mean sure, Christ came out on top, but not before he was tortured and killed.

Such is the bittersweet nature of Christian victory. We may win, but not without losing first. We may live, but not without dying first.

For greatest in this kingdom are the least, richest are the poorest, most included are all those traditionally excluded by "religion".

Indeed, a donkey is a means of transport utterly improper for a God. And Jesus knew it.

For this donkey was a symbol for subversion of power structure, overthrow of oppressive regimes.

Once before God had spoken through a donkey, and here He does again, saying, "this is how I do things. This is how I win wars. These are the ways of My kingdom: peace, humility, martial impracticality. I am the God of the donkey, not of the war horse."

Which is why the rampant Christian triumphalism, exceptionalism and exclusivism of today are so inappropriate. They are out of sync with the Christ we claim. The Jesus who rebukes power not by overwhelming it, but by submitting to it. The God whose ethic is sacrificial and restorative rather than vengeful and retributive.

American Christianity, or perhaps the vocal minority within, has taken on a war horse flavor, encouraging followers of Jesus to take up their swords (or guns) rather than their crosses. But I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of our Lord Jesus Christ, our model for faith and practice. Such was not His way.

Followers of this Jesus lined the streets of Jerusalem two thousand years ago and laid their palms down before the improper, unreasonable God. They pledged allegiance to Him, to His upside-down kingdom, to His counterintuitive and radically loving ways.

And this Palm Sunday may we do the same.

Amen.

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