When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
We’ve been looking at encounters Jesus had with different people on his ministry journey; (On the Road Again) and watched Jesus reveal a new and broader understanding of God. Each person he encountered gained an awareness of God that freed them to experience God’s unconditional and inclusive love. And while Jesus has been intentional about ministering to individuals, today, as he rides into Jerusalem, his meets, for lack of a better word, everybody else. The crowds have gathered, hopeful for Jesus to take his place as Messiah- the savior- the one who will free them from suffering and take his place as sovereign. It’s not a stretch these days to understand the hopeful longing they felt. Hosanna- save us!
But instead of securing a magnificently plumed warhorse, replete with shields and swords, showing his strength and might, as we would expect from a conqueror, he sends two of his disciples to "“loose”" or free a donkey and her colt. A donkey, quite the opposite of a mighty stallion, and I know we usually hear about how humble the donkey was, just as Jesus was humble- and sure that’s true- but look deeper. The donkey is just about the bottom rung of the horse family- far from the mighty war horse, a donkey is smaller, they have less economic value, used for manual labor and grunt work- The donkey, bears incredible burdens; often pushed to and beyond their limits, seen as necessary, but less-than. The donkey brings to mind the ‘bottom rung’ of our society-, the ones on whose backs the privileged inflict injury, but without whose backs it seems, society could not function. Tied to systems of inequity, of marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion- the donkey are those we fear becoming, those we fear acknowledging, or those we fear we are- less than. She kicks and brays loudly: “I’m here! I'm suffering! I'm afraid!" Yet her cries sound comical to us- He Haw, He haw!
So the first thing Jesus does is send his disciples to loose the donkey- for the donkey is central to God's saving plan. It is on the donkey all of our hopes rest, on the donkey rides our redemption. Jesus chooses ‘the least of these,’ and brings them, by his disciples’ hands, to be the vehicle for liberation.
But what about the foal- the offspring of the donkey- what might he be? The foal of course, is what is born of the donkey- everything birthed from generations of poverty, abuse, and exclusion. The foal of the donkey is what comes seeing people as less than; from allowing the donkey to exist without mercy or compassion- he is what is born from ignorance, avoidance, neglect, or greed. The foal is anger, resentment, violence, addictions, mental health issues, homelessness, hunger, loneliness, pain- the list goes on and on. The foal follows his mother everywhere, but his braying, though just as persistent as his mothers, is often as quiet as a whisper- "you're not good enough." "You're un-loveable." "You deserve to be treated this way." “God is not for YOU."
And the people take their cloaks and lay them down on the ground. The cloak, so important and crucial to survival in that time that it could be used as collateral on a loan, and even then, each night for the duration of the loan it had to be returned to its owner. It was that precious. Yet, the people lay their cloaks on the road at the feet of Jesus. And they take branches, perhaps representing the tools of violence, the sticks and stones of name calling, and back biting, and shaming, and punishing. Weapons of defense as well as offence- laid on the road at the feet of a non-violent God…
And this is the difficult part, isn’t it? To lay down our cloaks and our branches? Our cloaks, our most valuable things- what we wrap around ourselves to console ourselves, the things we use to make ourselves feel safe, or self-assured- or self-sufficient- the fabric perhaps woven over years of mistreatment which now serves to protect us, to shield us, and now, even, to keep people out. Our cloaks also hide our fear, our anger, our feelings of vulnerability. Laying down our cloaks in the middle of a crisis- really God? And our branches too? How will we fight back without branches? Maybe we can give up hitting and poking, but how will we defend ourselves- how will we fight back without the tools of violence? How will we retaliate, or seek revenge for the way we’ve been hurt- with love? Only love? Jesus, what kind of a Messiah are you? The kind of Messiah who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey- who leads us to peace through loving the least of these- a ruler who breaks the rules that keep us separate from one another, a sovereign who sees no differences between us, a God in whom there is no ‘less than’- no ‘un-loveable;’ Jesus is the Christ who lives in each of us, who loves each of us, who includes and embraces and affirms- despite what the foal has whispered in your ear- God is for you- God loves you- not after you’ve been cleaned up or straightened out or gotten your act together- God loves you as you are right now- just the way you are as the song says…
That’s why we lay down our cloaks and our branches at the feet of Christ- we don’t need them anymore- we don’t need anything that can keep us from embracing who we are in Christ or accepting God’s great love for us. And when we’ve freed our hands and hearts from those cloaks and branches- we raise our eyes and look to what Jesus reveals to us, the everybody else’s of the world- you are loved, you are cherished, you are my beloved child and it is for you that I will lay down my life! Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!