Words from Jacob – Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
Today is Palm Sunday – the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before what we now know as Easter. This is one of the most joyful days recorded for us in scripture, although it doesn’t match the joy we know is coming with Jesus’ resurrection next week.
There were many people present who witnessed that first Palm Sunday – Jesus was there, his disciples. The crowds were there, singing praises to God and cheering Jesus on from the side of the road. The Pharisees were there, urging Jesus to rebuke the crowd that was hailing him as king – a sign of things to come.
But there was another witness there that day, one that we easily skip over. And this witness can provide us with a valuable perspective on that first Palm Sunday. I’m talking about the donkey – I’m sure you’re thinking, what can we possibly learn from the donkey? Well, God once used a donkey to speak to someone in the Old Testament – I guess God can use a donkey to speak to us today as well.
I heard this many years ago as a child – and I’ve never forgotten it, though some of the details have probably faded – but I’d like to share the story of Palm Sunday as told straight from the donkey’s mouth.
Once upon a time there was a young donkey named Jacob who lived in the village of Bethpage, right next to Bethany, just east of Jerusalem. He was an enthusiastic little donkey, a bit mischievous at times, but he mostly loved to play. He loved to run around his stall, kicking up his legs, jumping up and down and going, “Hee haw! Hee haw!”
His mother often said to him, “Jacob, what am I ever going to do with you?”
“Some day,” said Jacob, “I will grow up big and strong. I will be strong enough to carry a man on my back!”
“Yes, you will, son, yes you will,” his mother said, proud of her growing boy.
One day the village grew very busy. Crowds of people arrived from all over the land. Jacob asked his mother, “Where have all these people come from? Why are they passing through our village?”
“They are going to Jerusalem for the great feast,” his mother explained. “Every year at this time the people come from faraway places to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. It is a time of great rejoicing and celebration as they remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt so many years ago.”
“Can I go to Jerusalem to see? Please mother, please, please please,” asked Jacob.
“No, Jacob,” his mother answered. “We can’t go to Jerusalem but we can go to the village border to watch.”
So, off they went – Jacob was so excited. He watched as people streamed through the village on their way to Jerusalem. He loved their bright and colorful clothing. He tried to guess what was in the packages they carried. He cocked his head, lifted his ears, and listened to the noise of chattering voices and a whole chorus of animal sounds. He sniffed the air and caught the scent of the many goats and lambs being led through the village.
Distracted by so many new sights and sounds, Jacob wandered away from his mother and accidentally crossed the village border. One of his owners spotted him and brought him back to the village, took a strong rope, and tied Jacob and his mother to a post. “Rats,” thought Jacob. “I hate being tied down.”
Suddenly two strange men approached him. “Look, there he is!” one of them cried out in an excited voice.
“Yes” shouted the other man. “It is just as the Master said.”
“Are they talking about me?” Jacob wondered. Apparently they were, for they came right up to him and started untying him and his mother. Jacob wondered what was happening. He felt an excitement stirring in the air, and his curiosity grew even stronger.
Just then his owners appeared. “Why are you untying our donkeys?” they asked.
“The Lord needs them. He will send them back to you shortly,” answered the men.
“Then you may take them,” the owners replied. And so the strange men began to lead Jacob and his mother away from their home.
“Mother, what is going on?” asked Jacob.
“I don’t know son,” replied his mother, “but do not be afraid. I am with you.”
The men brought Jacob and his mother outside the village and put their coats over Jacob’s back. “Is someone going to ride me?” Jacob wondered. “I have never carried a man before. I hope I will be strong enough. I will do my best.”
He was also a little worried about the person who was going to ride him. He had seen some pretty mean people ride the other donkeys before. Sometimes they yelled at the donkeys or even hit them with a stick.
But all his fears vanished right away when he met the rider. The other men called him Jesus. Jesus smiled kindly at Jacob and stroked his back with his big, strong hands. “Hello, little donkey,” he said. “You will carry me into Jerusalem today.”
Jacob’s heart skipped a beat. “Jerusalem!” thought Jacob. “Jerusalem! Whoopee!!! We are going to Jerusalem after all!” Jesus mounted on Jacob’s back and off they went.
As they approached Jerusalem the excitement in the air continued to build. Jesus sat on Jacob’s back, and Jacob’s mother walked beside them. Large numbers of people lined up along both sides of the road. Some of them lay their coats down in the road for Jacob to walk across. Others cheered and waved palm branches back and forth. Some of them even bowed low to the ground as he passed by. Singing, shouting and rejoicing filled the air around him. Jacob did not understand all the words, but he heard the people shouting things like, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“I must be the most important donkey in the city,” thought Jacob, “perhaps the most important donkey in the whole world!” And so the little donkey held his head high as he marched strongly and bravely into the city carrying Jesus on his back. It was the proudest moment in Jacob’s life.
It was already late when they entered Jerusalem. Jesus slipped off Jacob’s back and disappeared into the temple. “Come,” said Jacob’s mother, “we must find shelter for the night.” Jacob tried to sleep, but he could not stop thinking about the amazing things that had just happened to him. He kept running through the events of the day over and over again. “All those people cheering and shouting . . . for me!” he thought with excitement. “I can’t wait for tomorrow! Perhaps there will be even more people. Perhaps they will honor me with presents and gifts this time!” Jacob finally fell asleep in the straw. He dreamed about parades and music and people cheering.
He woke up early the next morning – his mother was still sleeping, but he couldn’t wait. “I must go into Jerusalem – the people will be waiting for me,” he thought. So he ran off to the marketplace – large groups of people were already there. Jacob marched proudly down the center of the road waiting for the people to start cheering. But they didn’t make a sound – they didn’t even notice him! No one waved any palm branches. No one put any coats on the ground. He went to the area outside of the temple, thinking, “Maybe they will notice me here.”
Again, he ran around and kicked up his heels. But nobody paid any attention to him. It was almost as if they didn’t recognize him – one man even yelled and threw a piece of fruit at him.
Jacob ran back to his mother crying and confused. He found her and threw himself upon her, just sobbing and sobbing. “I don’t understand it, Mother, I don’t understand,” he wept. “I thought they all loved me. Yesterday they treated me like a king! And now they act as if I wasn’t there. One of them even yelled at me! I don’t understand! Why are they treating me so differently?”
Jacob’s mother looked sadly and lovingly at her poor sobbing son. She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the forehead, “Oh, my son,” she replied, “don’t you see, that without Him, you are nothing?”
This is the story of Palm Sunday.
This is the story of Holy Week. What needs to be untied in our lives so that we can praise and honor God? When it is untied and let go, nothing can stop the love of God and neighbor that is inside of us. Palm Sunday is the day when we, like Jesus’ animal friend, are set loose to be used for the work of God. How might God use us, how might God use this church?
If God can use even the most humble and lowly creature for his great glory, how might he use you if you are willing?
A young woman, a confirmand from Indonesia, wrote these words as a Palm Sunday sermon:
Donkeys are known as lazy animals. You can expect to see them in a field probably eating grass and napping. I think this particular donkey in this story was chosen by Jesus himself. Out of thousands of donkeys that special one was chosen. Wow, I want to be that donkey. That donkey went from being in a field to bring ridden by Jesus through a crowd of people.
I think of myself as a donkey sometimes. I can be lazy and stubborn, like when it’s Sunday and I have to wake up to get ready for church. I’d rather stay in bed sleeping. I think some youth in our world today would rather be out with friends than sitting in church. They probably think that learning about church is pointless and sometimes stupid; others think that kids who go to church are stupid for going.
I want to be like the donkey mentioned in that passage. I want to be the donkey that Jesus picked. I want to give myself to good and not just attend church but be more included in this ministry. I mean, wouldn’t you feel special if you were chosen by Jesus himself? I would be ecstatic.
So may it be for each of us. Amen!
“Straight from the Donkey’s Mouth” – adapted by Ray Fowler
“Palm Sunday sermon” – from Gifts in Open Hands by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonso