The first Palm Sunday procession began with Jesus making a peculiar request: he sends two disciples into a nearby village with these instructions: “ find a donkey and a colt that was tied there and take it. If anyone asked them what they were doing, they were to say, “The Lord needs them.”
This question lays a foundation for our understanding of Holy Week and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross: On the top of Jesus mind is the desire to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This passage recalls the deliverance of the People of Israel, not by a messiah as a warrior king -- who was deeply longed for – by the people for centuries. The people expected to see this messiah warrior, this conqueror of Israel’s enemies, to enter Jerusalem in triumph on a war horse, a stallion. This kingly beast symbolized strength and triumph. Yet, faithful to God’s message, Jesus seeks out not a stallion but a donkey, a common animal, a beast of burden, which symbolized not a warrior but a peaceful, humble messiah. Jesus, knowing he was headed for the cross, entered Jerusalem in peace, and maintain his demeanor of conquering peace until the end.
Now the question, “the Lord needs them,” highlights Jesus in need for the first time in his ministry, here at the end of his ministry. Has Jesus asked for anything until now in his ministry? Has Jesus ever said, “Can I have this” for his personal use? Has Jesus inquired, “Can I borrow this?” “Can you loan this to me?” Only in his last week of life, to fulfill the prophet’s words, Does Jesus need something. Jesus doesn’t even own his own beast of burden. So, imagine, perhaps, the text asks us to take the great leap: Does God really need us? Is it necessary for us to donate our things and our time for God’s work to be done?
Hypothetically we can say God doesn’t really need that donkey. If Jesus had walked into Jerusalem instead of riding, the story may have unfolded in a slightly different way, but he still would probably have drawn a crowd and eventually he would have been crucified. If we don’t tell a friend the good news of God’s love and salvation, what will result? If I don’t speak up about some injustice or wrong done, won’t someone else will? Will the work get done?
However, Jesus chooses to do to it the way it is laid out in the scriptures. The unfolding of Holy Week declares to us it is Jesus who is faithful to God’s will, no matter what we do. That makes the difference.
Holy Week reminds us is that Jesus is faithful. Over and over again the disciples fail him and fall away. They betray Jesus, they deny Jesus, they flee when the going gets tough. Yet God doesn’t give up on us. The Scriptures point to examples where God chooses us, despite our fallen nature, our sins, our mistakes, God uses us, us broken and redeemed people, to make a difference in our communities and even change the course of history. There are many times a prophet was able to speak up and call the whole group back to God. Jonah was responsible for saving the city of Nineveh. Esther saved her exiled people from extinction. Noah built an ark for a remnant of humankind and animals. Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel to be the mother of Jesus. One particular person or persons can change the course of history, can change the course of one life, reaching into the hearts of others to listen and repent. Each of us has touched lives and made a difference, even if we are not aware of what we are doing.
In Holy Week into Eater season, ironies of ironies, Jesus affirms that God has chosen to need us as individuals. We are invited in to b a part of the story. Even when we fail, Jesus raises us up to try again. No one else can do what you do in quite the same way as you do it. If the body is going to be healthy, we must all do our parts, make our contribution to the whole.
In the Middle Ages people believed that the work of the church should be done by professional priests or monks, or sisters, who lived apart from the world. During the Reformation ideas about this began to change. John Calvin, one of the founders of Presbyterianism believed and preached what he called the ministry or priesthood of all believers that is everyone has some kind of call or vocation from God to contribute to the world. God has chosen to need us to be conduits of grace and good news in the world.
What is that call? What is the donkey that the Lord needs? In this season of isolation, it can be calling someone else who is home bound. It can be not hoarding supplies others need. Continuing to share your financial resources, whatever you can give, especially in this time when churches and charities need the help. Pray and God will give you something to do, to bring God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
So today, Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. A day when Jesus needed something. A day when Jesus was faithful to the message of the prophets. A day when our humble savior riding a donkey sets into motion God’s decision to save us, to need us, to use us. As we face our own via delarosas, let us rejoice in that we, lowly and redeemed creatures that we are, so like that donkey, can carry Jesus in to the world, with whatever resources we have, shouting hosanna along the way. Amen
With Thanks to Rev. Debra Given, “The Lord Needs It,” 2017