Column: Humble donkey found worthy of a king

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

People will sometimes hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It is a difficult and long journey. It is also possible to ride on a mule. That may not be the most glamorous way to travel, but I suppose it would be more comfortable.

All four Gospels report that Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem shortly before he died while riding on a colt, a young donkey. This Sunday you will hear either the account from Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16.

Most of the pilgrims entering the city would do so on foot. For Jesus to ride in on a donkey set him apart from the others. We might think of a donkey as a humble means of transportation but, at the time of Jesus, it was not considered as such. Instead, it would have been thought to be worthy of a king.

That may perhaps be exactly what Jesus and his disciples had in mind in arranging for Jesus to ride in on a donkey. They wished to present Jesus as the king entering in triumph into the city. That would explain why Jesus had foreknowledge of where to find the animal, and his instructions to the two disciples on how to obtain it. He appears to have made previous arrangements with the owner (Mk 11:1-3).

If questioned about why they are taking the animal, the two disciples are to reply, “The master has need of it.” We might ask: Who is the master in their answer?

There are a couple of possibilities. The “master” might refer to Jesus, the master of the two disciples. After all, he obviously has need of it. On the other hand, “master” might mean the owner of the donkey, its master. If Jesus had made previous arrangements with the owner, that also would make sense.

There is another possibility. Jesus has not made any arrangement with the owner. Instead, as king, he is commandeering the animal because he has the authority to do so. He is the master.

That interpretation would reinforce the notion that he is the king, triumphantly entering his capital city.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem, amid shouts of “Hosanna” from the crowd. Does that mean that the people are acclaiming him as king? Or, instead, are they merely welcoming him to the city, along with the many other pilgrims who are visiting? Are they directing their words specifically to Jesus, or are those words part of a general greeting? Do they realize the full impact of the words that they are shouting, or is it only in retrospect that they understand the importance of their greeting, that they are acclaiming the king?

After all, even the disciples did not fully understand (Jn 12: 16).

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