Donkey Duty

This is the only Blind Faith devotional to have appeared three times now, as of this edition. Two reasons: 1) I have the flu on writing day; 2) This is one of my own favorite devotionals. The “Donkey Duty” text is part of this week’s readings from the gospel of Luke. I think the point needs to be made more often – there are no insignificant jobs in the Kingdom of God done in the loving service of God and others. Donkey Duty will go on sabbatical after this appearance – I promise! (Donkey Duty, Previously distributed March 13, 2008, March 25, 2010.)

“Donkey duty! Why us- again? 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 from this untamed donkey colt – or from the owners of the colt – that Jesus had sent them to bring back? 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 teachings. They could be telling those wonderful words of life and love 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:

They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks on it and put Jesus on it. {36} As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. {37} When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: {38} “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:35-38 NIV)

Some began to sing from Psalm 118: “The whole crowd of disciples began to praise God with joy.

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 first Palm 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 men and women to follow him with heartfelt commitment and to live with God’s love as their prime focus.

Easter Sunday once again will 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 thought of as insignificant or lowly by those not doing the jobs. 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 Palm Sunday and Easter 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 draw 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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