My wife’s Auntie Frances was very sentimental about donkeys. Auntie Frances was one of the most selfless and kind-hearted people I have met, and she was very moved by the mistreatment of donkeys in many places, and wanted to help them. She supported donkey sanctuaries, was quite likely to send you birthday cards with pictures of donkeys on them, and left money in her will to animal sanctuaries and welfare charities that looked after donkeys. When you see a picture like this, they do look sweet. I hasten to add that Frances, though somewhat eccentric, was kind to people too.
But donkeys can also look rather silly. They can also make a terrific racket if they want. They have something of a reputation for stupidity. ‘Donkey’ in Shrek is both garrulous and silly.
‘Lions led by donkeys’ was a popular phrase used to describe the British Infantry in the First World War, with the donkeys being the generals who led them. You may have come across ‘Led by Donkeys’ more recently as the group behind a poster campaign that confronts politicians with some of the things they have said in the past.
Donkeys are not cool. They trot along quickly rather than having a stately step. They are functional, they get you there, but it is difficult to look important on a donkey. They are not, and never have been, Audis of transport. Important people do not ride donkeys. Kings do not ride donkeys.
But Jesus did ride a donkey. The passage from Luke that was just read to us is about ‘the Triumphal Entry’ of Jesus into Jerusalem. He had arrived in Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem, on the Friday, stayed there over the Sabbath, and on Friday he went into Jerusalem. This was the start of Holy Week; four days later, he would be dead.
But Triumphal? His disciples and the crowds did welcome him into the city, putting down cloaks and palm branches on the road for the donkey to walk on. They praised God and gave thanks for the wonderful things they had seen in Jesus ministry. “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!” It was a high point.
With his contacts and the rich women supporting him he presumably could have arranged for a richly-decorated horse to take him in to the city. He could have dressed up in fine clothes. He could have made an impression as a leader, a real triumphal entry. But he did not. He had been brought up in a normal, working family, without riches, and he stayed like that. Even on this day of recognition, Jesus was humble.
Yesterday, quite a few of us got together to discuss what the church wants from a new vicar to replace Vince. The area Parish Development Adviser led us in a Bible reading from Colossians at the start, which included this verse: As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Col 212). It was a good choice of passage as we considered the leadership of St. John and St. Stephen, and connects well with the example of leadership we see in Jesus on Palm Sunday. In the Triumphal Entry, and in many parables, Jesus talks about how leaders must be servants, not concerned with status. It is how we are seen in God’s eyes that matters.
As followers of Jesus, this is how we should be.