Before the Second Vatican Council, Palm Sunday was observed one week before Passion Sunday giving people time to savor the echoes of “Hosanna!” before they are confronted with the bitter cries “Crucify him!” In the liturgy since the Council, the two celebrations have been brought together. We began today commemorating the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a joyful celebration in which we join the people of Jerusalem in welcoming Jesus with happy shouts of “Hosanna!” Then, as we just heard proclaimed, the story of the suffering and death, the passion, of our Lord Jesus Christ in which we hear the same people of Jerusalem shouting “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.
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 characters no one ever mentions – the donkey and its owners. Think about it for a minute. How different would this story be if the unnamed owners 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 wanted it.
The point is that no matter how unknown a person is, how small a role someone plays, every part is crucial in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as he needed the donkey and its unnamed owners in the reading. We are not told who these owners of the donkey are but the fact that they understood that “the Lord” refers to Jesus and voluntarily gave up the donkey shows that they could have been his secret disciples or admirers. Otherwise one would have expected them to answer, “But who is this Lord who needs my donkey?”
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. It was a car because people used it to move around and do their shopping, a truck because it was used to carry a load, and a tractor because it was used in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that the donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. 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.
The challenge is for us to search our hearts and ask do we respond as quickly and as generously when the Lord calls for our gifts, talents and treasure to be used for His Kingdom and His Glory?
We are reminded that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs. The famous spiritual writer Max Lucado offers this reflection on using our donkey for the service of the Lord: “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 original wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: “If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkey, you are to say, ‘Its Lord is in need.’”
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. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure 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 know Him. Let us be forever in His service.
So, what is the name of your donkey? The Lord has need of it.
May God give you peace.