Monthly Archives: March 2010

Donkey Duty

Yes, I do take requests. With Palm Sunday commencing Holy Week this
weekend, this particular request was quite timely. Of course, I could have
sent the text of the following Blind Faith from March 13, 2008 to the friend
who asked for a copy just to that person. But as Easter approaches,
followers of Jesus are all called to reflect on our participation in the
serving and saving ministry of Jesus. I hope this helps you to consider
your role in proclaiming the Easter faith. (And if you have a request for a
past devotional or a new word about living by faith in God, I’ll take your
request, too.)

Donkey Duty – originally distributed March 13, 2008:

“Donkey duty! Why us? Donkey duty!” the two disciples might have
thought in disgust. Why couldn’t Jesus send somebody else, like the big
show-off Simon, or the “Me first!” Brothers, James and John? Who knew what
kind of braying, obstinate drudgery they would have to endure to bring back
this untamed donkey colt – or from the owners of the colt – that Jesus had
sent them for? Surely Jesus knew someone with a horse, or maybe even a
believing centurion or publican with a chariot he could use for his arrival
in Jerusalem! But, no! They were sent on donkey duty!

Around Bethany, the crowds that had dwindled to almost nothing only
a few weeks earlier in Galilee had once more swollen to an eager throng.
When they heard that the rabbi who had raised Lazarus from death was back in
town, everyone wanted to come and see both Jesus and Lazarus. Many people
had finally come to Jesus in full faith because of his calling Lazarus back
to life. Now, with Passover only six days away, they were sure that he
would head for the beloved capitol city, Jerusalem, to take his rightful
place in the Temple.

The donkey-duty disciples might have been thinking about the stories
of Jesus’ miracles and the wonderful words of life and love they had heard
Jesus speak that they could be telling to inquirers in the crowd back at
Bethany. They should have known by now that getting the colt would go
exactly as Jesus had said it would. When they returned with the donkey, the
disciples used their coats as a makeshift saddle, hoping to add whatever
dignity they could to Jesus’ ride on it into Jerusalem.

Word spread quickly that Jesus was headed into the city. People
from Bethany, apparently inspired by the disciples saddling of the donkey
with their coats, began “rolling out the red carpet” for Jesus with their
own coats. Others rushed out from Jerusalem with palm branches, waving them
excitedly to welcome Jesus, and adding them to the padding for the colt’s
clip-clopping hooves. The donkey-duty disciples’ mundane act of obedience
blossomed into an impromptu praise and worship gathering, a bold declaration
of Jesus’ ministry of salvation. Their simple act of service gave the crowd
the chance to celebrate their faith in Jesus: “A great crowd … {13} …
took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Jesus, shouting, ‘Hosanna!
Praise God! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless
the King of Israel!'” (John 12:12a, 13b NCV) Some began to sing from Psalm
118: “The whole crowd of disciples began to praise God with joy. In loud
voices they praised him for all the miracles they had seen. They shouted,
{38} ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! May there be
peace and glory in the highest heaven!'” (Luke 19:37-38 NIRV)

As the parade route turned down the Mount of Olives toward
Jerusalem, Jesus began to weep. Was he thinking how quickly the cheers of
the parade crowd would change to the jeers of the crowd along the
processional to Calvary? Many in the parade crowd were making public
professions of their faith in Jesus by shouting, “Hosanna!” Others, it
seems, were only caught up in the excitement of the moment. Who doesn’t
like a parade, with energetic throngs of people shouting and cheering,
perhaps singing and dancing as parades into Jerusalem often inspired
(remember the parade with David and the Arc of the Covenant). How many
among the palm-waving congregation that Sunday genuinely trusted Jesus as
Lord of their lives, and how many only shouted the words because everyone
else was doing it? Jesus had demonstrated God’s love and grace both in
teaching unlike anything his hearers were accustomed to hearing and in the
miraculous works of restoration and healing he had done. Still, many did
not believe that he was God’s Messiah. Jesus cried out over the people lost
in spiritual darkness as he neared the capitol city: “He approached
Jerusalem. When he saw the city, he began to sob. {42} He said, ‘I wish you
had known today what would bring you peace!… But now it is hidden from
your eyes…. {44} You didn’t recognize the time when God came to you.'”
(Luke 19:41-42, 44 NIRV) Jesus’ ministry was about more than exuberant
crowds and public spectacles. He was seeking heartfelt commitment of men
and women to follow him and to live with God’s love as their prime focus.

Easter Sunday will once again draw the largest crowds attending
worship services in churches across the land. Some people will “beat the
crowd” and come early to Palm Sunday services. Worship services don’t
usually happen all by themselves, though. Many unseen people perform all
kinds of “donkey-duty” in order to provide others the opportunity to join in
praising God. Although people serve joyfully in countless roles, even the
most dedicated may sometimes feel like they are always the ones sent to do
donkey-duty. Caring for children in the nursery, teaching often tuned-out
youth, singing in the choir, operating audio-visual equipment, providing
welcoming food for attendees, and myriad other jobs can seem unappreciated,
or regarded by those not doing the jobs as unimportant. But the simple
obedient service of people doing those jobs is vital for others to
participate in welcoming Jesus as Lord. Just as the donkey-duty disciples
had no idea of the worship celebration and public witness about Jesus their
obedience in going for the colt would provide, we may not know what
opportunity our obedient service may open for others to find or express
faith in Jesus.

But don’t forget Jesus’ tears for those who know little more about
him than the commotion of public parades and spectacles. Many sitting in
Easter and Palm Sunday services will follow the crowd, rather than genuinely
following Jesus. Many will sing the words and mouth the readings as they
are prompted, without really knowing what Jesus’ words and works mean to
them as offerings of God’s love and grace. Today, just as on the Olivet
road long ago, Jesus’ heart yearns for people to follow him obediently to
accept God’s way of life.

How often do you feel that you have drawn donkey-duty as you follow
Jesus? Imagine someone who might not have the opportunity to hear Jesus’
call to new life, or not have opportunity to be part of a worshipping
community without your obedient service. How can your actions in praising
and worshipping God inspire someone else to become a follower of Jesus? Are
you giving your true faith to Jesus, or do you just cheer along with the
crowd as Jesus passes your life by?

Take heart, if you find yourself on donkey-duty. Your actions might
just ignite a spectacular celebration in honor of Jesus, “the One who comes
in the name of the Lord.”

– J. Edward Culpepper

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