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Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

The Palm Sunday donkey has an important message for us

She wasn't asked to be something she wasn't, and neither are we during COVID-19


This piece is the first in a series of reflections on Lent and Holy Week.

Christian tradition imagines young Mary and her unborn infant riding a donkey into Bethlehem before the first Christmas. In a fitting bookend, Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem before the first Easter. This common pack animal carries the Saviour to his birth and to his death.

The Palm Sunday story features this ignoble creature when an impromptu parade ensues. Jesus, on a donkey, ambles into the great city, navigating a crowd waving branches and shouting “Hosanna!” Donkeys don’t do this every day. Or do they? 

She was a beast of burden, expected to do menial chores of transporting and hauling. She was a blue-collar worker with a reputation for stubbornness. Donkey scientists think this is due to a highly-developed sense of self-preservation: you can’t force or frighten a donkey into doing something it sees as contrary to its best interest. (I know some people like that!)

The Palm Sunday donkey offers valuable theological insight into our identity as people of faith. Here we have the ordinary called to extraordinary things, yet nothing required extreme effort or hardship. The donkey did something that ended up being wonderful and powerfully significant, but what she actually did in the moment was simple and unremarkable. She walked. And carried someone. That was it.

She didn’t know enough to put on airs, to pretend to be something other than what she was — a pack animal. She didn’t know what an important task she had, what impact her journey that day would make upon a nation of people or the future of a faith. All she knew was ‘one foot in front of the other.’

More on Broadview: How I grapple with sacrifice during Lent and COVID-19

It’s worth remembering as a church community, as well as individual people of faith, that we’re not asked to be something we’re not. Despite all the calls to physically distance ourselves and keep away from our sanctuaries, we are not called to abandon who we are and become a people totally different.

We are still to be our best selves, to do what we do well, what comes naturally, in a new way that still carries Christ’s message with us. That is how we, in our small, seemingly insignificant way, will bear the presence of Christ into the COVID-19 world. 

The donkey wasn’t asked to do anything beyond what she was called to do: to walk, to carry, to be herself. We are good enough as we are, simple, hardworking donkeys, jacks and jennies, all of us. We can’t all be thoroughbred champions at the Kentucky Derby, nor should we try.

We’re never going to have the big picture make sense for us, all we have is our small snapshot of what is around us. All we can see is the needs and opportunities around us as well as the companions for the journey. We carry the glorious arrival of Christ, not as a burden, but as gift and grace, as a reminder that we are not alone. We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.


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  • says:

    The donkey was fulfilling a scripture. Matt.21: 4 Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,
    5 Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass.

  • says:

    Hereis a situational ethical question for pastoral leaders to make your article concrete. Your are an ordained congregational minister asked by family members to visit a pallaitive member in their nursing home. The patient has no COVID 19 and neither does the extended Care faciliy. The family has cleared the visit with the facility. The nursing home authorizes the visit once all defensive protocols for COVID 19 are in place. In other words all risk factors have been minimized. And there is no medical reason why you cannot do the visit. As the faith leader of the congregation how will you demonstrate the spirit of your church sign which says "Fear Not"?

  • says:

    I can't believe I've never heard or thought of the donkey book-ending Jesus' life story! Lots of imagery to think about! Thank you Kenji for pointing that out along with the message that it is ok to just be the best we can be.