We’ve just had a long weekend in Jordan. Driving around I’ve enjoyed looking out for flocks of sheep and goats (sometimes with a shepherd), camels, and the occasional donkey. I’d like today to focus on the donkey ridden by Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.
What is Jesus doing commandeering somebody else’s donkey? Is it something he has secretly pre-arranged? Or is he just laying claim to the donkey, knowing that the owners will be OK with that? Luke doesn’t say.
But the real question is: who does the donkey actually belong to? Who is the real owner? Jesus tells the disciples to tell anybody who asks why they are taking the donkey that “the Lord needs it”. But the word could equally well be translated “the owner needs it”. That is exactly the phrase Luke uses of the human owners.
So who owns the donkey? Jesus or the people it lives with and who look after it? I think the way Jesus behaves and the way Luke writes the story we’re meant to realise that Jesus is the real and ultimate owner. The donkey is lent to the human owners. They get to take care of it and use it for their own benefit and the benefit of the community. But they are not its ultimate owners. They are stewards, managers, entrusted with somebody else’s property to use with all the wisdom, skill, knowledge and generosity that they can muster.
Jesus is King. That’s one of the meanings of the word “Christ”. That’s the point of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He is the anointed King sent by God to put the world back to rights. If we acknowledge Jesus as King then we acknowledge that our possessions, our property, everything we have, ultimately belongs to him. It’s on long loan to us so that we can make the very best use of it. We don’t really own anything in any final sense. We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out.
The point is reinforced when the crowds begin to throw their cloaks on the road underneath the donkey so that Jesus can ride over them. In the Old Testament that’s what people did to proclaim a new King. See the story of Jehu: 2 Kings 9.13. They are surrendering even their clothes to him.
Jesus has something of a habit of commandeering other people’s stuff. Think of the boy whose picnic lunch was used to feed the 5,000.
This is a good way to live. In the first place, whatever we have that we allow to be used for the Kingdom of God will in some way be blessed, given far greater significance, even multiplied. We become part of God’s story which is the best story there is.
And it’s liberating.
I once did a training placement with a vicar who had a bookselling business on the side. He said that if he lent a book to somebody and it wasn’t returned he concluded that his stewardship of that item had come to an end. He would refuse to fret over it.
If my house belongs to me then I must protect it. I have nobody to make sure it’s OK but myself. If, on the other hand, my house belongs to Jesus, then he will look after it for as long as he wants me to have it. Of course I will do my best as a good manager and steward to look after it, maintain it and insure it. But the ultimate responsibility is not mine. I can rest more easily because of that. I know that God will provide whatever I need. And he will do it with great generosity. There may well be times of deprivation and difficulty. But these will be in the providence of God and will in the long run serve his purposes.
Think of the people in Ukraine who are seeing their their property utterly destroyed. This was posted on Facebook today:
As the Ukraine war began a few weeks ago a great grandmother and her daughter packed a bag and started the long journey as refugees. Just before leaving, the older lady, who is a follower of Jesus, felt prompted to pack a small bag of seeds in faith. They were leaving their home of 60 years, their acres of land and their homeland as rockets were being launched by the Russians overhead.
She hastily packed the seeds believing she would one day plant them in safety and they set off.
Here in the U.K. [my husband] and I were getting ready to receive Ukrainian refugees. We had a home ready for a Ukrainian family who had served as pastors and were known to friends of ours. At the last minute they decided to stay in Germany.
A home on the farm was ready.
Then [my husband] heard of the plight of a Ukrainian mother and grandmother known to friends in a church in London nearby – who were praying for a place for these precious ladies to stay. The Lord had gone ahead of us all.
Two days later they arrived on a Red Cross flight.
With no idea of where the Lord might lead them they arrived to find a home prepared for them and specifically a place where those precious seeds could be planted.
We live in uncertain times. Knowing that we are in the end only stewards and not owners is a good thing. It is the best insurance policy you can have.