The Way of the Donkey: Mark 11:1-10

When fishes flew and forests walked and figs grew upon thorn, some moment when the moon was blood then surely I was born.  With monstrous head and sickening cry and ears like errant wings, the devil’s walking parody on all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth, of ancient crooked will; starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.  Fools!  For I also had my hour; one far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, and palms before my feet.

So wrote G.K. Chesterton in a poem titled, “The Donkey.”

And, indeed, the donkey did have his moment.  It was “one far fierce hour and sweet.”  And who but our God would choose such a lowly way to enter His City as the long-awaited, long-promised King?  Who but our God would choose to ride a donkey, a beast with a monstrous head and ears like errant wings?  Who but our God would deliberately choose to ride a donkey on His way to save the world by being the sacrifice for the sins of all?

But it makes sense, does it not?  For Jesus, our God in the Flesh, also came to be a beast of burden.  He came to bear the burdens of our entire race.  So what else was there for Him to ride but a donkey?

Such is the way of our God who was born in a cattle stall to refugee parents in an occupied land.  Such is the way of our God who would bring life to the world by taking the world’s death into His own body.  Such is the way of our God.  He takes the humble, lowly way.  That’s the donkey way of conquering.

And our God did not give up this humble and lowly way after He earned our salvation on the cross.  He will not astound us with His glory and power until the Last Day.  That’s when He will come to judge the living and the dead.  On that day, He won’t come riding on a donkey, but on the clouds of heaven.  But until that day, it’s the donkey way of conquering.

What is this donkey way?  It’s water, bread, wine, and words from a man’s mouth.  Those are the donkeys that God still chooses to “ride” to come to us, to be our servant King.  Like a donkey, they look so ordinary and unimpressive.  The world scoffs at such absurdities as it scoffs at a King riding on a donkey to win a kingdom.  The Romans must have looked askance at Jesus and shook their heads.  But for Christ’s chosen, the lowly way of the donkey is the way of eternal life.

2,000 years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to save us.  Today, He still comes to us in the way of the donkey.  That’s why we still cry out in our liturgy: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

So then, what does the way of the donkey look like today?  We see it when a pastor pours water over the head of an oblivious infant.  We see it even more clearly when the pastor preaches that baptism is the difference between eternal life and eternal death, between heaven and hell.  Oh, it seems absurd.  Yet, the Apostle Peter proclaims the way of the donkey.  He says that “baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

What does the way of the donkey look like today?  A pastor speaks our Lord’s words over bread and wine, which we then receive into our mouths.  Oh, it seems absurd.  Yet, Jesus Himself proclaims the way of the donkey.  He says that if one eats this food in faith, he will not die, but will live forevermore (John 6:51).

What does the way of the donkey look like today?  People gather to hear the Word, week in and week out, listening to a pastor preach eternal truth from a book whose last words were written 2,000 years ago.  Oh, it seems absurd.  But Jesus Himself proclaims the way of the donkey.  He says such preaching brings someone, not only into repentance, but even into the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).  And where there is the forgiveness if sins, there is also life and salvation.

That’s the donkey way of conquering, from which the Church to this day lives, moves, and has her being.  The world mocks us that we, the Church, can even exist from such donkey business.  And more than one voice, even from within the Church, has called the Church to give up such donkey business.  They say the Church needs something more impressive.  But we inside the Church, we know about the donkey.

For we know who the donkey was carrying into Jerusalem that fateful day.  We also know what He was coming to do.  Jesus did not come to battle and crush our earthly foes.  No, He came to battle and triumph over sin, death, and hell.  He was riding to be the sacrifice for all times and for all peoples who would but trust what He there came to do.

And so we delight in the donkeys that Christ continues to use.  Christ’s Word comes riding into our lives, attached to living water, claiming us as His own.  That such a Word and Water give us the promise of eternal life, that’s the donkey way of conquering.  That’s donkey business.

Bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood.  He gives them to us to eat and drink, so our sins are forgiven and that we are united to Him and His endless life.  That’s the donkey way of conquering.  That’s donkey business.

Words of sinful and foolish men can be the words of Life itself.  That’s no surprise to us.  For that’s the donkey way of conquering.  That’s donkey business.

But that doesn’t fully describe this donkey business of Christ.  For Jesus even wants to use donkeys like you to bring Him and His Gospel to others.  He would even have you invite others.  For they also are to join in the never-ending procession that surrounds the One who comes riding to us in such humble ways.  That’s the donkey way of conquering.  That’s donkey business.

Yet, we in our sinfulness can forget our Lord’s donkey way of conquering.  When that happens, we easily become seduced and disappointed.  For Jesus won’t change His ways to satisfy our sinful wants.  He refuses to unleash His power and might to overthrow of our enemies.  That will happen on the Last Day, when He will come in glory, in all His splendor and majesty.

But when we forget that, we feel let down when our Lord doesn’t smash our every sinful urge, quiet our every fear, or heal us from every disease.  We pray, wanting a powerful warrior on an impressive warhorse.  Instead, we get a rabbi on a donkey.  We want God to destroy whatever troubles us.  Instead, the fallen world still haunts and mocks us.  We want immediate deliverance.  Instead, we still must battle our addicting sins.  We want the way of glory, not the way of the cross.  But Jesus will come to us in no other way, but in the way of the donkey.

“Behold, your king comes to you.”  He comes to you in ways the world will see as powerless and unimpressive.  For the donkey was not the ride of a king.  It was the ride of a slave.  Jesus entered Jerusalem in humility for the same reason He was born in all humility.  He came to serve, not to be served.  He came to give His life as a ransom for the many.

Yes, Jesus still comes to you in the way of the donkey, in lowliness and humility.  He still comes to you to take from you your sin, your death, your hell, and to give to you His own righteousness.  That’s why, even to this day, the Church has never stopped crying out to Him: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

So, if Christ’s Church is to be about donkey business, then we have no time for monkey business.  “Behold your King!”  Behold means close your eyes and open your ears.  Christ confronts and challenges what your eyes want to see.  You want an impressive God who dazzles you with flash and fireworks.  But Jesus says, “No!”  He says, “I will only come to you in the way of the donkey.”

Jesus says, “Walk by faith and not by sight!”  For faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).  And what does faith delight in and behold?  It sees our King who still comes to us in the way of the donkey.

Yet, Christ still hasn’t finished forming us.  For He doesn’t only want us to recognize Him is His humility.  He also wants us to grow in the faith.  He also wants us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Yes, it’s time to put on the Lord Jesus.  It’s time for us to be His donkeys, by letting Him direct and move us.  It’s time to stop feeding our sinful flesh and its evil passions.  That why we prayed in today’s collect: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.”

Oh, that’s not the way we would choose to go, but it is His way.  After all, it’s His Church.  His mighty deliverance is the donkey way of conquering.  Indeed, it’s donkey business until He calls us home to eternity.  Amen.