Summary: The Donkey is the key to understanding that Palm Sunday didn't just happen but the=at it was carefully planned to stop Judas interrupting with his betrayal until the time was right.
SERMON : The donkey is the key
This morning’s 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.
Jesus decided to go into Jerusalem, even though it was a dangerous place for him.
Saint Matthew wrote that Jesus came to Jerusalem to fulfil Zechariah's prophecy –written about four centuries earlier that one day the true King would come, not on a magnificent war stallion, but on a young donkey.
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
It might seem a small detail but this event – but I don’t believe that the Triumphal Entry simply HAPPENED.
I think it was well planned.
Well it is a small detail
You will recall from our reading that Jesus told his disciples to go into the next village, Bethphage and find a small donkey that was tied up – and that they brought it back to Jesus.
We read in Lk 19:33
33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
And as the donkey had owners (plural), they 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.
The disciples would have had to be strangers to the donkey’s owners – otherwise Jesus would have simply told them to go and get the donkey from “Judah ben Jacob” and his partner.
There has to be a clue in what the disciples are told to say to get the donkey: “The Lord needs it."
Not Jesus needs it but “the Lord needs it.”
They could easily have answered – who is “the Lord” but there is no record of them doing so.
It seems to me that the most likely explanation has to be that it was a pre-arranged code word.
If this is so, Jesus has put a lot of meticulous planning into this event.
Why did he do so. Well I think he knew Judas would betray him and so that Judas would not know what was going on – and report it to the chief priests who could have stopped it – he sets up this clandestine op.
So if Jesus has planned the event, what is the point that He is making by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
I think Jesus is challenging the folk religion of his day.
Popular religion of Jesus’ day was looking forward to a Messiah who was going to be an all conquering hero throwing the Romans out and re-establishing Jewish sovereignty.
Indeed that was probably one of the reasons that the crowds turned out
Indeed this might well have been part of Judas Iscariot’s motivation when he betrayed Jesus.
He might well have been trying to force Jesus’ hand – and make Jesus the leader of a Maccabean style revolt.
After all, we know that Judas Iscariot was probably a Zealot – the member of a terrorist organisation of its day dedicated to terror and murder.
There was even a group of Zealots, the Sicarii known as the dagger men, who wouldn’t think twice about walking down a road and stabbing a passing Roman soldier in the back with a dagger.
The aim of the Zealots was to drive the occupying forces out – a bit like HAMAS in the Holy Land today.
But Jesus did not fulfil the wishes of Judas or the crowds in Jerusalem.
Instead of leading an armed revolt against the Romans, he turned on the Temple and overthrew the moneychangers.
For Jesus, the motif of Messiahship was to be found in Isaiah 53, the suffering servant rather than a triumphant king:
Isaiah says this about the Messiah:
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace
was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Indeed the prophecy from Isaiah mirrors exactly what happened to Jesus starting with his arrest on Maundy Thursday and going on to his death on Good Friday
There is something amazing in that – and it shows just how the OT and NT are linked.
It strengthens the case for the legitimacy and importance of our whole Bible.
A Jew in those days would know his Torah/Pentateuch inside out and Jesus would have known it too