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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday: Why a donkey?

One of the most memorable scenes from the original Palm Sunday is the triumphal entrance that Jesus made into Jerusalem.  All four Gospels emphasize that He was riding on a donkey.  Not only do they emphasize that, but the Synoptic Gospels further detail the instructions that Jesus gave concerning the donkey (and/or colt).

Matthew 21:1-3 (NIV) reports that Jesus told two disciples
to go into a nearby village on the Mount of Olives, find a
tethered donkey with her colt beside her, untie them, then bring them back to Him.  Jesus even adds this explanation:  If anyone says anything to you, tell them that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.  Matthew later goes on to describe the placing of cloaks upon these donkeys before Jesus sat upon them.  (Note:  There is still some debate as to whether Jesus rode one or both of these
donkeys into Jerusalem.)

Matthew then goes on to say that this was in fulfillment of these words from a prophet:  Say to the Daughter of Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Matthew was referring to the Book of Zechariah 9:9 – and was typically focusing upon Jesus being the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies.  Zechariah 14:4 makes specific reference to the Mount of Olives. Wikipedia reports that this triumphal entry also harkens back to the description of Jewish liberation in
1 Maccabees 13:51 that was filled “with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees…”

Wikipedia also reports that in Eastern traditions the donkey had traditionally been associated with peace,
whereas the horse had traditionally been associated with war.  Therefore, Jesus was entering Jerusalem as a peaceful prince, rather than as a warlike king.  In the Hindu tradition, the goddess Kalaratri (the seventh aspect of Navdurga) also rides atop a donkey.  Mary has been traditionally portrayed as riding a donkey when pregnant with Jesus.  While on his deathbed, Saint Francis is said to have “thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life,” and his donkey is said to have then wept.

A more recent story comes from Corrie Ten Boom, the devout Christian who helped liberate many Jews
during World War II, and then survived one of the worst Nazi death camps.  At a press conference a few
years ago, she was asked if it were difficult to remain humble in light of her current fame.  She replied:  Young man, when Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments in the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered that donkey’s mind that any of that was for him? 


Copyright April 17, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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