Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Virtuous Donkey

As we're confronted with this mystery of Palm Sunday, we have to set it in its proper context. Palm Sunday can only be understood in the context of Easter Sunday. The joy of Easter is so huge that it can't be contained in a single day, so we pray through the events that lead to Easter in a three day celebration that starts the evening of Holy Thursday. But even that's not enough so we celebrate the Easter season for fifty days after Easter. But even that's not enough so a little bit of the joy of Easter bleeds over into Palm Sunday as we sing, "Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Our king is coming home to claim his throne, and he's taking us with him. That's what we celebrate on this Palm Sunday.

I want to look at the under-appreciated character of the donkey from the gospel we used at our entrance procession. Now, the gospel tells us that it was a donkey on which no one had ever sat. So it was an unbroken donkey. Now, you and I know well enough that an untrained or unbroken animal is not the kind of animal you want sit on for a triumphal entry. And yet, how did this donkey respond? This donkey recognized perfectly well that the God of the universe had just walked into his life, and he behaved accordingly.

But how do we respond when Jesus walks into our lives, when he wants to depend on us for some special task? If we get called on to do some special task through our prayer or through the circumstances of our life, how do we respond? For example, if God calls us to care for the poor or to take on some suffering at work or at home for his glory, what do we do? Do we respond like this donkey, and overcome our natural inclination to rebel, or do we kick in protest against this task because we didn't ask for it in the first place?

I suspect that for many of us, this dumb donkey responded better to the Lord's tasks than we often do. But when the Lord calls us to do something, when the Lord calls us to a level of virtue that is beyond our sinful inclinations, this donkey shows us what to do and what is to be gained. We have to let the grace of his presence fill us and bring us higher than our natural inclinations. If we accept the tasks he offers us, then we get to share in the glory he receives.

This week the Lord is inviting us to walk the rough road with him from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. He is calling us to receive the gifts of the priesthood and Eucharist on Thursday night, to walk the road to Calvary on Friday, then to wait at the tomb on Saturday. All this is in preparation for the glory of Easter Sunday. So walk the road with him this week.

To help us understand how the Lord's tasks can lead to glory, I want to leave you with a poem from the great English wordsmith G.K. Chesterton titled "The Donkey."

When fishes flew and forests walked
     And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
     Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
     And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
     On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
     Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
     I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
     One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
     And palms before my feet.

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