Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The ministry of donkey fetching

It is easy to get ourselves caught up in talking about Jesus entry into Jerusalem and skipping over the preparation for the event.

As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem we are told that he calls over two of the disciples to send them to get a donkey.  Of course the mundane task of donkey fetching is made special by Jesus prediction about where the two would find the donkey and what would happen when they got there.  Yet there is still a level at which it remains a mundane task. It was just something that had to be done – someone had to fetch the donkey.

Imagine years later these two disciples trying to explain the significance of their donkey fetching ministry.  Maybe the omission of their names from the story reflects how they might have felt about it.  So the question we could ask is why even bother including this part of the story, it has to be more than just fill.  I am sure the gospel writers were not working to a word count.

One of the things that strike me about the inclusion of this aspect of the disciples work is that even in mundane and ordinary tasks God can be encountered.  Jesus sends the disciples to fetch the donkey, and by predicting the encounter that the disciples would have, Jesus turns the event into a moment of revelation.

The appearance of the person questioning the disciples as Jesus had predicted is an affirmation for them of God’s work going on around them, even in the midst of this mundane task.

When asked, “Why are you doing this?’ their response is to describe what Jesus had said to them.  They relay Jesus prediction of the event.  Through this the disciples are once again reminded of Jesus authority and place within their lives.

Now, what if anything does this have to do with us?  By turning this mundane and ordinary task into something special, an encounter with the divine, I believe we are reminded that even the most mundane and everyday tasks in our lives can be places in which God speaks to us as well.

As we put our hands to work in the everyday humdrum of life making a meal, mowing a lawn, balancing our books, writing  and researching our PhD we can encounter God’s presence and be taught by God’s love just as the disciples were.

The great American preacher and activist Martin Luther King once declared “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Maybe in these moments of our everyday existence we will hear someone asking ‘why are you doing this?’  Why are you mowing the church lawn, why do you choose to write your PhD on this topic, why is it that you are nursing or teaching?  I wonder do we have sense that God has called us to these everyday tasks of life as an expression of ministry in the world.  Tasks that may seem everyday - even dull and boring – may be places we remember and encounter God and maybe when asked we might even have the temerity to explain that we had a sense that Jesus had asked us to do it.

Just as with the disciples and their task of donkey fetching so too we are called to do mundane and less than glamorous tasks in our lives – but God separate from these things.   

So the disciples return with the donkey and then we can safely assume follow Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.

Now, one of the dangers of this story is that, because we have handed out palm branches to little children for so many years, and smiled at their embarrassed cuteness as they wander the aisles of the church waving Palms, we forget that there may be something more than simply remembering a long dead story going on and being sentimental about childhood.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem is filled with tension and excitement – Jesus is fulfilling Zachariah’s prophecy.  His procession declares his identity. Jesus makes claim to be the Messiah and the people respond.  Jesus had already set his face towards the cross and now he goes to meet it.  It is a scene filled with ambiguity. 

Maybe you have heard it said before that the same crowd that shouts “Hosanna” at the beginning of the week will scream “crucify him” at the end of the week.  People are fickle and Jesus presence evokes a range of responses.

We who know the story of what occurs should also understand our place within it.  We are part of that crowd.  We are the donkey fetchers.  We wave our branches.  We gather in hope.  Yet as we do so we know that despite our enthusiastic response we too will lose our way with Jesus.  We will desert, we will betray, we will hide.

This is how we live our lives with a strange mixture of belief and scepticism; with a paradoxical ability to do both things which are good and bad, usually not even fully aware of what which is which.  We live as people celebrating God’s love yet denying his place in our lives.

Yet, the good news is that Jesus knowing this, rides on.  He travels towards the cross, towards his death and towards his resurrection to break through our fickleness and so declare God’s love for us and inclusion of us in God’s very life.

For me the gathering on Palm Sunday shows the other side of the coin of our spiritual life to the low key and mundane task of donkey fetching.  The times we encounter God as a gathered community – just like running to the roadside to see Jesus we come and gather here and in worship and in singing our Hosanna’s Jesus is present with us here in the midst of our fickleness, accepting our praise.

The hope that we find in the story of the donkey fetchers and of Jesus entry into Jerusalem is that Jesus is with us and alongside us.  He is there us as we go about our everyday tasks and he is here as we gather together to celebrate, not because we are worthy in any way of his presence but because he chooses to be so out of love.

(with thanks to Thomas Long for some inspiration)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this take on the events of that day. I preached something similar a number of years ago - speaking from the point of view of the colt who was being used for such a significant person. The experience stayed with him(?) the rest of his life. We are all called to a particular purpose for our journey and it is something we need to go about as deeply and commitedly as we can - just as MLK, Jr. indicates in his statement.