I saw a picture this week that you would not believe. There’s a church (I’m not sure where, this was on Facebook), that every Palm Sunday someone brings a donkey to the church, and the Rector of the parish rides the donkey up the center aisle while the people wave their palms. That parish’s current rector is a young, pregnant woman, so she looked more like the Blessed Virgin on the way to Bethlehem than Jesus on His way into Jerusalem, but my first thought was What if the next Rector weighs, say, 300 pounds? They would have to get the best donkey in North America to carry that guy.
For some reason, people like to make a big deal over the donkey, and I think that Saint Mark would be happy with that. Mark, in writing his Gospel account, was remarkably brief, he didn’t linger over much and he wasn’t one to write down useless details. So it may seem strange, these things considered, that in recounting the story of Jesus making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Mark dedicated fully 60% of the account to the donkey.
There is a reason for this, apart from Mark just writing down what happened. The first is prophecy, or the fulfillment of prophecy. The prophet in question would be Zechariah, who was living and prophesying about 500 years before the birth of Christ. Zechariah, like his fellow prophet Ezekiel, was from a family of priests; he was a serious guy, it would difficult imagining his friends calling him Zechy. Anyway, while prophesying against the enemies of Israel, Zechariah got around to talking about the Savior of Israel, the Messiah. This Messiah, said Zechariah, would ride in on a donkey: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” wrote Zechariah, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”
Zechariah was declaring that the Lord would have a great victory over the enemies of Israel, but that the Lord would also establish peace in that place. You see, the Eastern tradition is that the donkey “is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out he was coming in peace.”1
But Zechariah wasn’t just talking about worldly peace, but about the peace of God that passeth all understanding, that is, salvation. “Alfred Edersheim, a Christian Jew who lived during the 1800s, studied ancient Rabbinical writings, and said that Zechariah 9:9 was often interpreted as being about a Messiah (that is, about salvation). In his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim wrote: “The Messianic application of this verse in all its parts has already been repeatedly indicated. We may here add that there are many traditions about this donkey on which the Messiah is to ride; and so firm was the belief in it, that, according to the Talmud, ‘if anyone saw a donkey in his dreams, he will see salvation’.”2 Edersheim goes on to note that the name Jesus means “salvation” in Hebrew.
This week, this holy week, starts out so good; Palm Sunday is fun, you go to church and get free stuff, there’s anticipation, excitement in the air, like we’re on the verge of something big. Now think back two-thousand years, think of the disciples anxiously looking for that stupid donkey Jesus was so specific about. Think of Jesus not able to sit still, knowing what was coming. The whole world, all of creation, was hurtling toward salvation or oblivion, the angels and the demons watching to see what would become of the Son of the Living God.
We know what would become of Him; Jesus would go on to make the worst week of anyone’s life not only holy but (dare we say?) good; and in bidding us to follow Him, we must now follow Him into Jerusalem, into the praetorium, up the road to Calvary and into the tomb. In doing so this week will become for us holy and good, that on that blessed Easter morn, we may set our eyes on the salvation of the world.
1.Palm Sunday, Wikipedia
2. About Bible Prophecy.com