Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9) … And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. (Luke 19:35)
The Palm Sunday donkey carried the weight of the world. The One who was in the beginning, through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together, the One about to bear all of our sins upon the cross, is for a brief while the burden on this common creature.
What’s strange in the passage from Luke is the choice of verbs. The great weight the donkey bears, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “set” upon it. It is courteous, almost delicate, like when I was a little kid and was taken to pony rides in the local park.
The ersatz saddle of cloaks, in contrast, is “thrown” or “cast” upon the animal. It is a more abrupt, almost violent action. “They dumped their clothes on the donkey” might be a fair paraphrase.
The same verb for dumping is employed by the Apostle Peter, long after Palm Sunday, as he seeks to lead disciples who had not had his privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh and eyewitnessing Jesus’ words and deeds. In a string of exhortations that conclude his First Letter to the church, Peter tells those of us who would follow Jesus to
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, emphasis added)
We are called to be Palm Sunday donkeys, humbly bearing an unimagineable weight, a glorious burden set upon us gently enough that we are not crushed.
But that same weight of glory is humble and becomes like a donkey to us, calling us to coarse and irreverent casting of our struggles on his invisible but unbreakable reality.
Almighty and everlasting God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the Cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect of Palm Sunday)
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