As Palm Sunday approaches, I find myself pondering: what kind of king would risk his Triumphal Entry by riding a borrowed, inexperienced donkey? If you know anything about donkeys, this was a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
In my newest book, Walking with Henry, I describe a comical scene that illustrates what it's like to walk with donkeys: you definitely want to leave yourself plenty of time to get where you're going.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter Eleven, "The Way of Peace:"
* * * * * * *
I couldn’t wait to tell Flash.
“You’ve been invited to an event as guest of honor!”
Flash didn’t seem surprised one bit, as if to say, Well, you didn’t expect they’d pick Henry, did you?
The occasion would be hosted by Paws for Reflection Ranch, a local therapeutic animal facility. So local, in fact, that it was only a half mile from our house— close enough for us to walk rather than borrow a horse trailer. Of course, Henry would accompany Flash— that is, if the two donkeys would agree to the walk down our country road.
“I don’t know about this,” my husband Tom said as I handed him Flash’s halter and rope.
“I think they’ll do fine,” I replied with a confident air. “Henry is really coming along on his walking skills, and if they’re together, they should cooperate with us.” I employed my best chipper tone in an effort to convince him.
“There are too many variables here,” said the pessimist in the ball cap. “They’ve never walked on pavement, there are too many other strange surfaces to walk over, there’s all kinds of tasty green grass, the cars and trucks will go too fast, the dogs will bark . . . and you have not fooled me into believing that Henry will walk in anything but reverse. This is going to be a nightmare.” He gave me his look that said I don’t know how you talk me into doing this stuff for you.
“Relax. I’ve given us plenty of time to get there, and I have baggies of sweet feed and carrots for us to use.” I pretended Tom’s assessment hadn’t rattled me as I fitted Henry’s blue halter over his head. Brushed until they glistened and outfitted with coordinating green bandanas around their necks, the two donkeys looked like celebrities. I knew they’d be a hit with the ranch guests— if only we could get them there.
“You lead,” I directed Tom, “and we’ll follow. Let’s try to be patient with them. It’s a new experience, so I know they won’t be perfect.” Lowering our expectations was essential.
Tom gave Flash a bear hug around his neck and whispered in his ear, no doubt giving him a pep talk. “Okay, Flashy. Walk on!” Tom stepped out ahead, while Flash watched him walk to the end of the slackened rope and jerk to a full stop. Flash hadn’t moved a muscle, as unbudging as a ship’s anchor.
“Really?” Tom gave the lead rope a small tug to insist on cooperation. Flash ignored him and turned around to look back at Henry, who was busy in midrotation. He turned himself completely around so that his back end was facing forward.
“Oh, for crying out loud, Henry.” I tried to maneuver his head around to face me, but I was no match. He extended a back foot and inched in my direction. Backward.
Dear Lord, have mercy. This is going to take. for. ever.
Flash used this standstill to examine his life, perhaps thinking about the bees that buzzed in the adjacent field. Are those honeybees or bumblebees? Is there a difference? Because they seem so alike.
Apparently, you can’t rush the donkey thought process.
Tom’s gaze darted, skimming over one donkey at a dead stop and the other facing backward. His eyes stopped and took clear aim at me: I told you so.
Mine immediately shot back: I don’t need your comments.
Henry glanced at me over his shoulder and lifted his tail.
No! Do not explode right now! Not a good time, Henry!
“Come on, bud. You can do this. Walk on . . .” is what I actually said, calmly and collectedly. Lowering his tail, Henry grabbed a mouthful of grass and began to chew, as if this whole exercise were about breakfast.
Flash wrapped up his contemplation. Yep, honeybees. He swished his tail, nodded his head, and started to walk. Henry weighed his options. Once again, he glanced over his shoulder and saw that Flash was leaving. Ears moving, he reluctantly figured he might as well join in. His back leg stretched out behind him— first one, then the other. At this rate, we might be there for the closing ceremonies.
“It’s okay, buddy. Just turn around when you can— no rush.”
Finally, rotating 180, Henry turned to face me and fell into step as we paraded down the road— Tom, Flash, me, and Henry.
Still only a half mile to go, minus maybe ten steps.
The grass along the way was supertempting and conveniently accessible. Henry did pretty well as long as Flash kept going. Every now and then, Flash had to stop and ponder. What? Branches overhead? Scary! And why are those cars speeding by?
Each stop required patience on the humans’ part and also required that Henry repeat his ritual: A slow turn to face backward. A stop to think and look at where he’d been. A moment of worry about being left behind, then a check to see if Flash had started moving. Finally, a response to my tug on the lead by inching forward . . . in reverse. After several backward steps, he’d stop again, then slowly turn to face forward before walking on— as if all this were normal.
Will we make it to the event on time? Each stop triggered one of my hot flashes and tested my antiperspirant. Each stop made me think of Jesus— dear Jesus, trying to make his way into Jerusalem on the back of a greenhorn donkey colt, riding over uneven palm branches and scattered cloaks to the deafening roar of a cheering crowd. What a risky way to make a “Triumphal Entry.” It could have ended in complete embarrassment.
Yes, this is what you think about when you’re trying to get somewhere on time with a donkey.
Walking with donkeys just for the fun of it is quite enjoyable.
Walking with donkeys with a goal in mind is another thing altogether— it’s fraught with anxiety. Maybe Jesus, like Tom and me, had given Himself plenty of time.
Zechariah prophesied how Jesus’ event would unfold:
Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.
Scholars have argued over whether Jesus’ journey included one donkey or two. It’s not exactly clear since Matthew’s account differs from the other Gospel accounts. But the key to the success of His venture, in my opinion, wasn’t the lure of carrots; it was that the colt’s mother led the way. Ask any donkey owner, and they’ will assure you: An inexperienced colt would have needed a lead donkey to follow. An untested donkey without a trusted leader would have balked at the first sight of something unfamiliar on the ground, at a raucous crowd pressing in.
Stepping over cloaks and branches? Unthinkable.
People shouting and waving their arms? Frightening.
Yep. There were definitely two donkeys.
What a sight Jesus must have been! A grown man straddling a small donkey, his feet nearly touching the ground as the animal stepped skittishly into the city.
This was no fancy war horse.
This was a peace donkey.
A peace donkey that, in all likelihood, couldn’t have made it without his mama nearby.
* * * * * *
Why would Jesus risk his Triumphal Entry by riding a borrowed, inexperienced donkey? Why not take this opportunity to parade in on a regal Arabian steed, a mark of esteem and power?
Jesus was making a statement about the kind of Kingdom he was establishing— one not denoted by military might, intimidation, and earthly power, but by love, peace, gentleness, and humility.
His Kingdom is marked by beauty, “a beauty that will save the world.”
This is the kind of Kingdom worth living for. It’s the kind of Kingdom that was captivating my heart.
“Look, your king is coming to you . . . humble, riding on a donkey.”
You can read the complete story here: