Summary: The key to understanding Holy Week can be found in the ownership of the donkey
Our Gospel reading describes Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem - which happened at the beginning of one of the most momentous weeks in Antiquity – in AD 29.
And as you walk towards Walsingham this Holy Week, you will have a lot of time to think about Holy Week
And so I would like to suggest to you that the key to understanding the events of Holy Week can be found in the ownership of the donkey
Let me explain
Jesus told his disciples to go into the next village, Bethphage and he said:
30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
This was a well planned clandestine operation.
St Luke gives us a clue when he says that the donkey had owners (plural).
So the owners had to be poor.
And given that they were poor, the donkey would have had to be a sizeable investment for each owner.
So have you ever wondered WHY the owners would have parted with the donkey to complete strangers - the disciples.
Would you part with your car if someone came up and asked you?
The disciples were obviously strangers to the donkey’s owners – otherwise Jesus would have simply told them to go and get the donkey from “Fred Bloggs” or the Jewish equivalent
However these complete strangers let their donkey go when the disciples said: “The Lord needs it."
Notice the owners didn’t ask “Who is your Lord”
Why - because it seems to me that it was a pre-arranged codeword.
Jesus has put a lot of meticulous planning into this event.
I think he had to do this because his enemies were no fools.
If they had realised that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to fulfil Zechariah's prophecy –written about four centuries earlier - that one day the true King would come on a young donkey - they would have confiscated or killed the donkey!
Jesus planned Holy Week very carefully.
We see the clandestine nature of Holy Week a second time in the preparation for the Last Supper in Luke 21
7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”
9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.
10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”
13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
Jesus didn’t want his enemies to disturb him , - remember Judas was still about - so we see the sort of planning MI5 would have been proud of.
Jesus knew what lay ahead of him – and he wanted to do his Father’s will not his own.
The Jews were looking forward to an all conquering hero – Messiah – a 1st Century “Superman” to throw the Romans out.and re-establishing Jewish sovereignty.
Indeed that was probably one of the reasons that the crowds turned out hoping that at last the Romans would be booted out
Indeed this might well have been part of Judas Iscariot’s motivation when he betrayed Jesus.
Yet Jesus challenged the folk religion of his day and eventually the crowds turned on him
The scandal of Holy Week for many is this.
Jesus - God in human form - didn’t come as a King in the way we would expect a king to come.
He came as a servant – a suffering servant.
He came to take away the sin of his people. His death on the Cross was to make atonement for our sins.
And the simplicity of the Gospel is this. That we don’t have to jump though hoops to please God.
Ours is not a faith of works. St. John puts the simplicity of the Gospel like this:
12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.