Saturday, April 4, 2009

What about the donkey?

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 5, 2009:

Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins the great feast of Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. At first glance, today can seem like an odd feast. Before the Second Vatican Council, Palm Sunday was observed one week before Passion Sunday giving people time to savor the echoes of “Hosanna!” for a week before they are confronted with the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” Today, the two celebrations have been brought together. We began by commemorating the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, joining the people of Jerusalem welcoming Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” And now, we turn to the story of the suffering and death - the Passion - of our Lord Jesus Christ in which our “Hosannas” are changed to cries of “Crucify Him!” The dramatic and emotional effect of bringing these two aspects of the reality of Jesus’ life together is at first strange, but I think ultimately helpful.

These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week. This is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.

Today, I want to focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and I want to look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. We often focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it for a minute. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Maybe we would have no story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, at least not in the way Jesus intended.

The point is that no matter how unknown a person is, how small a role someone plays, every part is crucial in the full unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem.

Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. Still has low miles and that new-donkey smell! So, you can see that giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was a very big sacrifice indeed. It was a generous and heroic act of faith; even though it seems very simple.

It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when our Master calls for our gifts, talents and treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that our Master needs. Will we give it to Him freely?

The famous spiritual writer Max Lucado offers this reflection on using our donkey for the service of the Lord. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference in the long haul. Maybe you have those questions, too. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. It really does belong to Him. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His. The wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: “And if anyone should ask you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you will answer, ‘The Master has need of it.’”

My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord, our Master. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him. Let us be forever in His service.

So, what is the name of your donkey? Your Master has need of it.

Have a blessed Holy Week and may God give you peace.

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