|Image Credit: Pixabay, CCO Public Domain|
Sometimes you think you know a story you have often heard. I'm familiar with the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem that Christians remember on Palm Sunday. I even know the differences between the various gospel versions of that event. In spite of that, when Palm Sunday comes round at the beginning of Holy Week each year, there will be something that surprises or challenges me in a new way. To remind you of the story, here's Mark's Gospel's version:
"When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, 'Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, "Why are you doing this?" just say this, "The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately."' They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ''What are you doing, untying the colt?' They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!'
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve." Mark 11: 1 - 11 NRSV
What surprises me this year is the humour. Caught between joyful triumph and coming passion, is a joke. There is something ridiculous about a grown man riding a donkey, or the colt of an ass. The animal seems too small and the man's legs too long. It's as if Jesus intends to mock the Roman occupier's power displays as Pontius Pilate rides into Jerusalem on a mighty horse to take charge of keeping the peace among the crowds filling Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
And what exactly is Jesus saying by instructing two of his disciples to take an animal for his own use without the owner's permission? (Just imagine a teacher today asking 2 pupils to go and get someone's bicycle that just happened to be secured against a railing?) And how did the donkey's owner react?
In his poem 'The Donkey's Owner' Clive Sansom imagines the owner having a good belly laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and what he saw. At least at first - and then what? Read the poem reproduced below and decide what the owner saw in Jesus' face that made him stop laughing.
THE DONKEY’S OWNER
Snaffled my donkey, he did --- good luck to him!
Rode him astride, feet dangling, near scraping the ground
Gave me the laugh of my life when I first saw him,
Remembering yesterday --- you know, how Pilate come
Bouncing the same road, on that horse of his
Big as a house and the armour shining
And half of Rome trotting behind him. Tight mouthed he was
Looking as if he owned the world.
Him and my little donkey! Ha! Laugh ---?
I thought I’d kill myself when he first started.
So did the rest of them. Gave him a cheer
Like he was Caesar himself, only more hearty:
Tore off some palm twigs and followed shouting,
Whacking the donkey’s behind ........Then suddenly
We see his face.
The smile had gone, and somehow the way he sat
Was different --- like he was much older --- you know ---
Didn’t want to laugh no more.