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The Holy Donkey

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

This past Sunday we gathered with palm branches in hand and shouted glad exclamations of “Hosanna!” We remembered the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, and the path we now take, this holiest of weeks, to the cross. But there is one character from that Palm Sunday story who has stayed in my mind these past few days: the holy donkey. My reasoning for focusing on the donkey is due to a piece written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.

“The Poet Thinks About the Donkey”

“On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.”

– Mary Oliver

I wonder about the donkey. Sometimes I wonder if the world had led this donkey to believe he was insignificant, or that he might have even felt like an imposter in the crowd. But he was far from insignificant. Did the donkey know that some considered him to be the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy? As it is written in the Hebrew Bible: “Look! Your ruler comes to you, victorious and triumphant, humble, riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, The Inclusive Bible).

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Did he know that he came from a royal legacy, carrying the household of King David (2 Samuel 16:2)? Did he practice self-care, or perhaps know that his own rest on the Sabbath had been advocated for in the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus 23:12)? Did he think about his ancestors, like the one the Divine themself spoke through (Numbers 22:28)? Or his sibling upon whose back the Good Samaritan placed the man in need of care (Luke 10: 34)? Or perhaps the one who carried Isaac, intended to be sacrificed by Abraham (Genesis 22:3)? Did his heart break at the thought that the one he so gently carried was destined for the same fate?

I wonder about the donkey. I wonder, when we see our worth shining in an unexpected place, if we are reminded of our connection to every living thing that has come before us. Someday, something extraordinary might happen, and someone there might wonder about you. You are far from insignificant.


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