When my brother and I were in high school we had the opportunity to drive my dad’s sweet Ford Bronco II. It may have had a few hundred thousand miles on it but that thing was sweet for a couple of sixteen-year olds who lived in the country. You can imagine our pride on the night of high school graduation when we had an opportunity to lock in the 4-wheel drive, hook up a rope and tow our friend’s sad little car out of the mud! Even though we drove around with no air conditioner, we knew what a cool first car our dad’s little truck was. In fact, we found out exactly how cool said Bronco II really was when we made a mistake.
It was the first time dad let us change the oil on our own and we had everything covered. Remove oil plug? Check. Remove oil filter? Check. Drain oil. Check. New filter? Check. New oil? Check. Screw in oil plug all the way? Well, I must confess I thought we had done a pretty good job. Not the first time or the last I have been wrong.
I remember driving to the gas station on a summer night, feeling the cooling air flowing through the open window and singing along to the Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio (well, to be precise, on the 10-disc c.d. changer). All of a sudden, Mr. Bronco (as he was affectionately known around our house) decided he had had enough of his malnutrition. He stopped dead in the middle of the country road. No oil in the pan. No joy in mudville.
For the next several months, Jay and I were relegated to the humiliation of switching from dad’s truck to mom’s van. Seventeen years old, driving around mom’s green ’92 Areostar. Ugh. It still gives me chills to think about. Who cares that it had a semi-functioning a/c? It was just flat-out embarrassing. You better believe that I remember this fate every time I have changed oil in the years since. Just one more twist on that plug, now, we are in no hurry, after all.
I think the equivalent of my mom’s Areostar in the time of Jesus was a donkey. If you were trying to make a statement about your heritage, respectability and importance you would be as apt to score a donkey for riding purposes as a seventeen-year-old is for mom’s van. It only crosses your radar in those terrible dreams when you wake up in a cold sweat. You ask your wife, you get on the phone, ask a roommate, just please tell me I do not have a donkey parked outside that I have to ride in today. Please tell me it was only a crazy dream!!
With few exceptions, donkeys are not really made for riding, you see. They are beasts of burden. You put your suitcase on a donkey when you move. Soccer moms tote around a donkey because he is useful for toting a bunch of junk around. Long story short, nobody has ever been impressed by somebody riding a donkey.
Think back all the way into the history of Israel to the first king, a fearful man named Saul. Do you remember what he was doing when the prophet Samuel found him? He was searching for his uncle’s lost donkeys. This is not meant to be a flattering introduction. If you saw a guy show up to an interview for a six-figure salary job in a crummy old minivan you would be suspicious from the very beginning, right? Right.
And yet here is Jesus, charging his disciples to go and find him a donkey to ride on so he can enter Jerusalem. This will be the most important week in the history of the world and the God-Man decides to roll into town on a donkey. Does it make you think of king Saul? Possibly. Does it make you wonder what he is all about? Definitely. Would you pull that off? No way in hell.
But Jesus has nothing to prove to us. He invented donkeys and if he wants to ride one into town that is his prerogative. He is just that free.
What really counts about Jesus being humble is that he also announces with him a new way of living. The master and the student are friends. The leader washes the servants’ feet. The prostitute is welcomed into grace. Everything is changing. The prophet Zechariah’s words are coming to their fullness:
The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.
The announcement of this new order is our king riding on a donkey. Who knew?