Sunday, April 13, 2014

Untie THAT Donkey

Mark 11: 1-11
It was Passover and Jerusalem was the place to be at Passover.  Jews from all over first century Palestine would make pilgrimage and gather to remember how God had ‘passed over’ their homes in Egypt during the slaughter of the innocents.  They remember how God had protected them from the plagues and how God had brought them out of slavery.

Jerusalem was also the seat of the Roman government in the Mediterranean world in the Roman Empire.  The people were burdened with taxes, economic issues, systems of land debt to the Romans, and Herod, a puppet ruler of Rome was not a happy, or skilled ruler for “all” the people. The people resented him.  They wanted badly to prevent the transformation of Jerusalem into a Greco-Roman city.  This was the situation that year and the people shouted, “Hosanna” which means in Hebrew, save us!  Not hooray, or yippee, not even praise him, hosanna means save us.  Their hope and expectation was for a king who would be able to save them from the Roman authorities and the Greco-Roman influence that threatened their religious identity.  Many believed Jesus was their man. They sang out “Hosanna in the name of the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

The ‘Palm Sunday’ narrative is recorded in all four of the Gospels each supplying its own unique details of that day.  Mark’s account is the shortest of the four gospels and it is the focus of today’s reflection.  Hear now the Gospel of Mark, the 11th chapter:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’

 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Just east of Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives lies sleepy Bethany.  Jesus went there often for respite; it was his little ‘get away’ retreat spot.  As he and his disciples were getting close to Bethany, Jesus says to two of them, “Go, run ahead, will you?  Go to the village and when you see a donkey, a colt, untie him, then bring him to me.”  “Oh,” Jesus says, “and if anybody says anything to you, just tell them that I sent you.”  Seems as if Jesus already had thought this donkey fetching through.  In fact, out of the 11 verses that comprise this story, 6 are focused on donkey detail.  It’s a big deal.

I can just hear the two disciples now as they run ahead.  “What the heck?  Why do we have be the ones to get the donkey?  Why didn’t he choose those other two, you know the ones who never do anything?  For this we left our fishing boats and our beautiful Galilee?” 

Beyond their kevetching their mission was successful; and they lead this colt back to Jesus.  Certainly this animal was not fit for a ‘king’ so they put their cloaks on the donkey; at least it would protect Jesus from the dirt and dander of the animal.

Jesus began his journey out of dusty Bethany, over the steep incline of the back side of the Mount of Olives, down into the Kidron Valley and into bustling and contentious, Jerusalem.  The disciples followed, the people followed.  People threw their garments on the ground and they ripped down branches from palm trees, maybe even branches from some of the prolific olive trees that dot the side of the Mount of Olives. 

But what about the donkey and those two disciples who were dispatched to bring back such a lowly creature? I bet that they never, in their wildest imaginations thought that they would be untying a donkey that didn’t even belong to them, and then have to bring it to Jesus.  They probably never envisioned that this was ministry, that this mundane detail would become such a large part of the events of the day. 

When Jesus said, follow me, he meant, really people….follow me.  Believe me.  Trust me.  Do what you can.  But come on, untie a donkey?  That probably means cleaning up after the donkey too.  It’s hard to grasp the larger picture when grunt work is all that you are doing in the name of the Lord.

Yet, to follow Jesus is just as much hands on as it is an intellectual and spiritual exercise. 

When I entered the ministry a former colleague of mine asked me if I had my Swiss Army knife on me.  Being a quarter Swiss I had to stop and think for a minute, was he making a joke at my cultural heritage expense? He was a joker!  No, he really did want to know if I had a knife with me, he needed the screwdriver because we were erecting the stage together for the upcoming Christmas pageant. 

They don’t tell you in seminary that sometimes you’ll have to fix a leaky faucet, pick up cigarette butts, reset large and old furnaces, wash the floors, screw stages together and fix paper jams.  They don’t tell you to keep a Swiss Army knife on you.  And they forget to tell you about all the committees and paperwork that needs tending to.  This is donkey detail!

To be relevant Karl Barth once said, “One should read with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other”.  I say, “One should read with the Bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other, and have a Swiss Army knife hanging from your belt.”  Then, and only then are you prepared to follow Jesus, to bolster the church and to deal with the grunt work of ministry.

Ministry of the Church takes many hands and hearts.  Hands and hearts that are willing to perform the unglamorous because most of life is, well, unglamorous.

This is the ministry of donkey duty, grunt work where we will have to metaphorically, go and untie that donkey.  It behooves us to do it ourselves for in that humble moment you know you are serving not yourself but God.  You have humbly given of yourself and your pride over to the greater need.  We will have to serve in unglamorous ways that equally and ultimately, too, lift up the body of Christ.  Our time and our efforts do NOT go unnoticed; it is all for a purpose which happens to be God’s purpose and not ours.  That’s why we are here, that’s the outer grunt work of being a Christian.

But that’s only part of it.  Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday there is a whole lot of inner grunt work to be done.  The inner work is between you and God where forgiveness and grace meet.  It is where you humble your heart and have a ‘come to Jesus’ real life moment.  Are you willing to untie THAT donkey even when you don’t want to?  Are you willing to follow Jesus to the end, through the betrayal, the arrest, the interrogation, the denial, the whippings and crucifixion?  Are the sounds of THAT beast of burden within earshot?  I hope that it is.

The expectation of Holy Week is that we will be with Jesus every step of the way until he hangs upon the old wooden cross.

The expectation is that you will examine your relationship with God honestly to ready yourself for resurrection.

Are you willing and daring enough to cry out from the depth of your being, hosanna, save us, so that your Alleluias on Easter morning will be your authentic voice? 

When Jesus says, follow me he doesn’t specify where and for what reason or what kind of work he wants us to do.  One day you will be a visionary and prophetic leader championing justice and visiting the sick and the next day you will be called to change light bulbs.  He simply says, follow, trust me, and believe in me, I will lead you to a better place. 

And Jesus, well, he follows through, he does not disappoint us.  He leads us to hope not despair, joy not sorrow, self-sufficiency not helplessness; he leads us to God’s immeasurable grace.  Untie that donkey my friends and ride into Holy Week over the dusty and rough terrain we call life.  It may not be glamorous but it will be the best thing you will ever do.


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