Real kings don’t ride donkeys, apparently Jesus didn’t get the memo, nor did Zechariah for that matter.
When a ruler rolls into town, especially the capital city, they make a display of their power, they make a display of the security that people will find under their rule. Think of when a united states president comes to town, the armored motorcade is filled with firepower and it, itself has a police escort. Snipers line the tops of buildings, and helicopters often fly overhead. While the technology was a bit different, things were basically the same in the first century.
When the ruler came to town he (as it always was back then), he rode a war horse, on his sides and at his back armed men spear and sword in plain sight, ready to act if any “problems” were to show up.
It was a way to validate their power, to let everyone know who was in charge, but even more than that it would instill a sense of confidence with the people – their mighty ruler, rode above all others (since his warhorse was the largest), and with that, they knew they could trust in the security of his reign. Without such displays of power it would be easy to forget who was in charge, or even lose confidence in the strength of the leader’s rule…
Apparently Jesus didn’t get the memo.
What is, perhaps most striking about the story of this king’s ride into Jerusalem is the detail given to the plan. As Jesus and his growing band of followers approach Jerusalem, the possibilities are endless. Jesus has been declared king, lord, he has been revered as a son of David – or royal blood and perhaps one who would come and reclaim the throne for God’s people. To add to that he seems to be gaining momentum as he closes in on the great city he must capture if he wants to climb the throne. Over the past chapter we have even seen a Roman ruler (Zacchaeus a ruler of the tax collectors) join the ranks of the disciples.
Things were coming to a head and the army of Jesus’ was now just a few miles from Jerusalem. Like any good tactician, Jesus lays out the plan in detail. He sends scouts ahead to go and retrieve an animal – he would need to ride into the city. He knows exactly what he wants and he knows exactly where they are to find it. “When you enter you will find a colt that no one has ridden, untie it and bring it here, if anyone asks you what you are doing tell them that the lord needs it.” It happened just as he had told them.
The disciples returned with a baby donkey, the least of an already humble breed … again, kings are supposed to ride war horses, apparently Jesus didn’t get the memo, he sent his disciples off to go get baby Eeyore.
And so, when one would expect the king to arrive with the earth quaking sound of a caravan of war horses, Jesus slowly makes his way to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – to further the issue here, folks start throwing their clothes on the ground – certainly an honor but the extra padding would further ensure that everyone would get the point – This Jesus was/is not the kind of king any of us have become accustomed to.
A parade is an important thing. It tells us something about the one it represents. War horses, black limousines and SUVs, they tell one story. And a baby donkey tells a much different story. It is the story that the prophets told of a world made right. “Behold your king comes to you, victorious and just, humble, riding on a baby donkey.”
His parade isn’t like the sort that folks were used to and it isn’t like the sort that we see in the world today… neither is his kingdom. His is a rule of humility, of love, of grace, and of mercy. It is a rule shown true, not by a big horse or shiny black SUVs, but by and empty tomb. It is a rule in which baby donkeys can stand just as proudly war horses, where the weak and lowly are honored and where the smallest or the least really are the greatest.
Next week we celebrate Christ the King Sunday and after that the advent season begins. It is a time when we focus our hearts and minds on this simple reality.
Our king comes. He comes in humility. He rides on a baby donkey and he calls us his people hear the good news of his kingdom and to boldly follow in his way of life. Amen.