Is That Your Donkey?

Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, April 9, 2017
Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

It strikes me odd sometimes as to what the Gospel writers chose to tell us.   This is Jesus about whom they’re writing.  They had so much material to work with, and yet the Gospel accounts are such short documents.

If the police came knocking on your door and said “quick!  everybody in the neighborhood needs to evacuate!  You’ve got five minutes to gather what you can and get out of here!”  What would you grab up, throw in the car, and head out with?  It would be things that were really, really significant for you and your family, right?

It’s a similar dynamic going on here.  Out of the massive body of experiences and teachings with Jesus, these writers of our Gospel accounts grab up just a few precious things to pass along to us.  That’s why it is indeed odd to me, what Matthew, Mark and Luke chose to tell us about this day that we Christians traditionally call Palm Sunday.

If I said to you, “quick!  What happened on Palm Sunday?”  You’d most likely tell me, “well, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and people waved palm branches and threw their coats down on the path in front of Jesus and shouted ‘hosanna’.”  True enough.

But, do you realize what Matthew, Mark and Luke spent most of their space writing to us about?  They all chose to devote the majority of their Palm Sunday accounts talking about the donkey!  All three Gospel writers devote well over half of their verses to tell us how it was that Jesus came by his ride into Jerusalem that day…they tell us about the donkey!1   Weird, right?

It’s Mark and Luke who tell us about some of the villagers questioning the disciples:  “hey!   You two…what do ya think you’re doing?  Is that your donkey?  I don’t think so!”  That’s the jist of what these bystanders are saying in Mark’s version.  Luke says these folks are actually the owners of said donkey tied up there in the street:  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Hey!   What are you doing?  Is that your donkey?”  Again, that’s a paraphrase in modern English.

The world itself—says John–could not hold all the books if all the things Jesus did were to be written, so what do Matthew and Mark and Luke choose to tell us?   They tell us the backstory of the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday…really?   Is that information really crucial to what happened on that day?

Here’s how I would have written it.   I would have just skipped verses 2 – 6 altogether.  Instead, I would have picked up at verse 7, with something like this:   “And finding a donkey, the disciples placed their garments on it; and he sat on it.”  And, then, get on with Jesus riding into Jerusalem.  But, no!   Instead, they take up all these precious verses to give us the blow-by-blow about getting the donkey, as if that’s so important.

“Look,” says Jesus.   “I want a couple of you to slip over into that village down the road.   There’s going to be a little donkey tied up there.  Now, listen, because this is important–untie that little donkey and bring it here.”

      “Now, somebody’s probably gonna see you.   They’ll probably shout at you, you know, like ‘Hey!   Is that your donkey?!”   Just tell ‘em, ‘The master needs it, they’ll get back soon enough’, and then grab the donkey and get back here quick as you can.”

And, then, after Mark and Luke tell about Jesus telling the disciples about the donkey, they both use up yet more precious verses to narrate, how in fact, that is what happens, blow by blow.   All this back story on the donkey before ever getting around to telling us what’s really memorable about that day.

What is important about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem would seem to be this:   Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.    In doing that, Jesus was acting out an ancient prophecy.  That prophecy told the people one day, the Messiah will arrive in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  That was the prophet Zechariah, as recorded in Zechariah chapter 9, verse 9.

Apparently, though, the Holy Spirit impressed upon the Gospel writers the importance of asking the question, “Hey!  Is that your donkey?”   They state it not once but twice:  first, we hear it from Jesus, and then we hear it a second time as they describe it as it happens.

Now, as a general rule, when, in Scripture, the writer alerts us by telling us, “here’s what’s going to happen”, and then the writer repeats it by describing that event happening, that is the writer waving a flag at us.   Basically, the writer is saying, if it’s worth me repeating, then it’s important.

So, let’s hear about this important day one more.  This time, though, hear it were as a play being performed, because that is, afterall, what Jesus is doing, isn’t it?  Jesus is enacting an ancient prophecy, and he does it in three acts:  first act, on the road outside of Jerusalem—Jesus, “this is what I want you to do—go into the village and get the donkey–and this is what’s going to happen—you’ll have to answer a few questions.”.

Second act, on a street in a nearby village—enter the disciples who untie a donkey and start walking off with it.

“Hey, you two!”, someone objects.  “Is that your donkey?  I don’t think so!”

“Uh, no, it’s not our donkey, but the Lord needs it; you’ll get it back when he’s done with it.”

“Oh.  O.K.”

So, if we were to boil it down to its essence, two-thirds of the Palm Sunday story is about getting the donkey.  Then comes the third and final act—Jesus enters Jerusalem riding somebody else’s donkey.

There’s a few things going on here, but here’s the point:  these unnamed villagers, whoever they were, when they learned that Lord needed of something they owned, they gave it without further question.   If only all us villagers were so ready to do the same, when the Lord Jesus calls upon us.

“Hey, you!  Yeah, you, there asking about my finances.  Is that any of your business?   I don’t think so!”

“Well, no, but the Lord has need of your money; you’ll get it back a hundred times over when he’s through with it.”

“Oh.   Well, o.k., then, here you go!”

Is it our donkey?   Or, is it the Lord’s to use, as God has need, to do God’s redeeming work on this good earth?

I am fully confident in God’s providence to work around me when I fail to offer what God would be pleased to receive from me, what God might ask of me.  If I ignore God’s leading, it is really to my loss, not God’s.

But, there is also at least a short-term loss for whomever God would have had me to in some way assist, or influence.  They suffer loss, too.  There is something that goes missing which interrupts the flow of how God would have worked had I cooperated with God.

Perhaps because we’re talking about Jesus needing a donkey to ride, it puts me in mind of the well-known proverb, “For The Want of a Nail”.  One version goes this way:

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of a horse, the rider was lost,
For want of a rider, the message was lost,
For want of a message, the battle was lost,
For want of a battle, the war was lost,
For want of a war, the kingdom was lost,
For want of a nail, the world was lost”- T. Rundgren

Imagine if the two disciples had come to unhitch the donkey, and the exchange had gone this way:

“Hey, you there!   What’d ya think you’re doing?   Is that your donkey?”

 “Uh, no.  But the Lord has need of it.”

 “Well, you go tell the Lord he can go get his donkey somewhere else and leave mine alone!”

Do we ever react that way?  Afterall, we’re the ones who put in the hours at school.  We trained.   We took out the loans.   We take care of our stuff, and we leave other people’s stuff alone.   We work dog-bone hard for what we’ve got, and this donkey would not be parked out front of my house if not for the sweat of my brow.

Furthermore, I want it to still be parked out there when I need it, so, no, now is not a good time to be taking my donkey off somewhere for who knows what.

There were other villagers there around Jerusalem to whom Jesus could have turned; other people who knew Jesus and who counted themselves among his followers.  So, I have no doubt he could have sent two more disciples to look further for another donkey.

But, they offered what Jesus had asked of them.  To them belonged this privilege, and they did not turn away from it

Before the parade, before the laying down of garments in the road and the waving of palm branches and the shouting of Hosannas!, before all of that, there first were some unnamed folks in a nearby village who lent the Lord their donkey, just because they heard the Lord had need of it.   Matthew, Mark and Luke devote the majority of their verses to drive that point home to us:  to fulfill the ancient prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus needed somebody to loan him their donkey.

Now,  I need to let you know:   I didn’t pick the text out for this week in order to write a stewardship sermon.  Really, I didn’t.   We’ll just chalk this up as one of those divine coincidences.  So, here we are;let’s forge ahead with a four applications.

Application 1:  your Finance Committee and Stewardship Committee and Nominating Committee:  they’re sort of like these disciples that Jesus sends over to the village, aren’t they?  One way or the other, these folks are all saying the same thing: “the Lord has need of your donkey…how about it?”

It’s interesting that Jesus anticipates the question, “what are doing with my donkey?”   It’s is a legitimate question to ask, when someone wants to use something of ours.  As owners of the donkey, you have a reasonable basis to ask, “what plans do you have for my donkey?”

You need to understand why you’re being asked to give your money to support your church ministries.   You need to take time to understand, what is our mission?   What are our various ministries?   How exactly am I being asked to offer my various skills and gifts and time and talents?

The Lord needs your donkey, and here’s why.

Application 2:  There was a direct connection between these villagers loaning Jesus their donkey and Jesus getting to ride into Jerusalem that day to fulfill the prophecy.  There is a direct connection, for example, between your offerings and…

– making sure the lights get turned on and the heat and the water and all the rest are here in good working order.

– making sure that supplies are here for your teachers to use to teach the children the great stories and truths of Scripture.

– making sure that missions personnel have what they need to accomplish the mission for which the Lord has called them and for which we have commissioned them.

– making sure your own personnel are here helping you accomplish your mission here on this corner.

So, no donkey, no Palm Sunday parade.

Application 3:   Preparation.  Jesus sending the disciples to get the donkey; the disciples obeying and in fact getting the donkey and bringing it back to Jesus—all of that was what?   It was preparation!  It all was preparing for the ultimate mission of Jesus fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy to let the people know, the time had arrived.

The time is fulfilled, preached Jesus, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

 Next Sunday marks our one-year anniversary together in this interim time together.  These past 12 months, you may have felt like what those other disciples left standing around with Jesus, waiting for those other two disciples to get back with the donkey.  You’re waiting, waiting, waiting, for that Senior Minister Search Committee to finally get back here with that fine candidate to recommend to you.

This interim time you find yourselves in?   It’s preparatory.  So, what do you need to do, personally, to prepare yourself to see this church move into that new day, following Christ, serving Christ, carrying out your part of Christ’s mission?

On the day of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the first two acts were all preparatory.   Only then could there happen the third act.

Application 4:  The third act of Palm Sunday is action.  When those two disciples returned to Jesus and the others, they didn’t seem to spend much time standing around admiring what a fine donkey it was.   Jesus got on, and they headed on into Jerusalem.

To recap:

  1. The Lord needs your donkey. It’s time to ask and answer once again for yourselves as members of this congregation, “who’s donkey is it?” You have a responsibility for the financial welfare of this church; you have a responsibility to serve and to leader in  its ministries and mission.
  1. No donkey, no parade. Without you yourself and you as a congregation cooperating, this mission called University Baptist Church won’t keep going forward.
  1. Two-thirds of Palm Sunday was all about preparing for the action to come. This interim and all that it has demanded of you and will yet demand of you is getting ready.
  1. The third act of Palm Sunday was action. When you call your next Senior Minister and that clergy person is here with you, the Parade starts, and you, all together, are the parade. The community out there?  They’re the folks watching, and many of them will be quite surprised and delighted to hear themselves say with joy, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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 1 Matthew devotes 64% of his verses, Mark devotes 55% and Luke devotes 58% to describe how Jesus came by his ride into Jerusalem that day.