Palm Sunday B, 2003 C, 2010
Mark 11:1-11. Luke 19:29-40

A Liturgy is also available


One of the most neglected characters 
in the so-called Palm Sunday story, is the donkey.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

None of the great ‘wild west’ TV heroes ever rode a donkey.
        John Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead on a donkey.
        The Lone Ranger…
And neither did our own Ned Kelly.

The only person in my teenage comic book and TV culture
who ever rode a donkey was Festus from Gunsmoke.
        And he’s certainly not recognised as a hero!

Anyway, donkeys are conservative folk.
They like doing things the same old way.
"Pushing boundaries" and "donkey" just don't go together.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four footed things.


Recently, with a small group of neighbours children, I watched the DVD Shrek2.
The green swamp monster and his side-kick, 'Donkey'.  And I got to thinking…
There are many occasions when a donkey, as 'side-kick' or part hero,
appears in a biblical story.

Just remaining with the Christian tradition:
not long ago it was Christmas and you will remember
        Mary rode on a donkey to Bethlehem.

Well, not exactly.  Christian imagination says she rode on a donkey.
Actually the story doesn’t say that.

The Palm Sunday story begins with Jesus on a donkey
as he rides into Jerusalem and as it happens, faces his last week.

“Lesser known but still in our imagination”, says former colleague John Shuck,
“is that the donkey was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified.  Some breeds of donkeys have a dark strip of hair across their shoulders and another strip that crosses it.  The legend is that the donkey followed Jesus to the crucifixion and he turn away because he couldn’t bear to see Jesus crucified, yet he couldn’t leave his friend.  As he turned his back the shadow of the cross fell upon the donkey’s back” (Shuck & Jive Blog site, 2009).

But back to the Palm Sunday story… and its donkey and our religious imaginations.

It's obviously a Roman Catholic donkey because it loves tradition!
It lives in the same paddock.
Treads the same path.
Eats at the same hour, day-by-day, year-by-year.

Then one day, strangers enter the paddock,
put a halter around its neck and pulls it away.

Most donkeys would resist.
If this donkey could speak, it might have resisted.
Donkeys can be very stubborn.

It is one thing to be called to do something
within the context of the life we enjoy.
Journeys of faith are something else.

Leave ‘pushing boundaries’ to those odd folk
who seem to have nothing else better to do than get involved!
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

The donkey was taken to the place where Jesus was.
Clothes were put on its back.

Had the donkey been able to speak it might have loudly objected
that it was good enough as it was.
        It didn't need dressing up.

‘I don't come to where Jesus is to be changed.
I come for comfort.
I come for recognition, for affirmation.
To be told that I am all right.’

Jesus sat on the donkey.
It might have done what donkeys do.
        kicked, and
        thrown this person off.

Carrying Jesus is for enthusiasts, religious fanatics, but surely not for us.
We don't come each Sunday to be where Jesus is in order to carry him.
        What would our friends think?

Then the journey into Jerusalem began and the crowds cheered
and gave a ticker tape reception (using tree branches instead).

The donkey might have mistaken the cheers to be in honour and praise of donkeys!
After all, being a Jesus-carrying donkey
        was an extraordinary achievement.

‘A unique donkey am I,’ this animal might have thought.

If it had attempted to acknowledge the crowds, Jesus might have been tossed aside.
Instead the donkey plodded on to the place where Jesus
would challenge some sacred taboos and traditions.
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 G K Chesterton.


All through Holy Week we find the gospel storytellers
claiming people drawn to Jesus, who then resist him,
or try to change the story,
avoid the consequences,
or denounce him.

The crowds that had cheered him, later shouted: "Crucify!"
Religious leaders it seems, plotted his death.
Most of the disciples ran away.

In the end our tradition says:
• only Simon of Cyrene was prepared to be a faithful 'donkey' and carry the cross;
• only the women and John, stood and watched the reality of a barbaric execution;
• only Joseph of Arimathea was brave enough to offer a tomb.

Palm Sunday at one end, and Good Friday at the other end, remind us:
our faith is not an escape from reality.
        It draws us into the reality of this world.

Jesus, who is human as we are, and Jesus who is a ‘gateway to God’ (Spong),
confronts and submits to the worst human beings can do,
        in order to remain faithful to a vision
        of what the best human beings can be.

"As Socrates chose to drink the hemlock rather than deny the law its due", says Bob Funk,
"so in a similar way the cross expresses Jesus’ surrender to his vision.  He was unwilling to compromise his vision for the sake of survival, for the sake of expediency, for the sake of success.  Absolute, uncompromising integrity is the true meaning of the cross" 
 (Funk 2002:145).

(This week, 24 March 2010, was also the 30th anniversary of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero - shot as he celebrated Mass.)


It is one of the great tragedies of much of conservative/evangelical religious life these days,
that religion has become separated from life.
That life, often called 'secular', is one thing, and 'religion', (Christianity, that is) is another
(Geering 2007).

This Palm Sunday may we once again reaffirm that religion is not a retreat from life.
But that which enables us, with insight and wisdom and power,
        to meet courageously and creatively the current issues,
        the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, of ordinary living.

And in just a hint, Lloyd Geering, writing about a religion or 'spirituality' for these times, says:
"...we must not be primarily concerned with saving our individual selves, with self-improvement, with introspection, and least of all with any form of navel-gazing.  Rather we must be primarily concerned for the welfare of one another, for the future of the human species, and for the health of the planet"
(Geering 2007:53).

Funk, R. W. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Geering, L. G.
In Praise of the Secular. Wellington. St Andrew's Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, 2007.