Over the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to travel down to Inverness a number of times and it brought a smile to my face when I saw that the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary were out in the fields enjoying the warmer weather. Seeing donkeys always makes me think of the significant roles that these beautiful animals play in various stories in the bible. There’s the donkey that carried the heavily pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem for example. But did you know about the donkey who spoke? Balaam’s ass. You can read all about her in Numbers 22 – 24. She saw exactly what was going on – more than her boss did, in fact, and eventually spoke to draw his attention to the presence of an angel.
Another donkey, one which we hear about as we step into Holy Week carried Jesus publicly into Jerusalem. It is well known that nearly all donkeys bear the mark of a cross on their backs and like them we carry the mark of the cross too, given to us at our baptism. Donkeys teach us a lot about discipleship. They remind us that we always carry Jesus invisibly, like Mary’s donkey, wherever we go. Every day Christ is carried into our world by us. As St Theresa said,
‘Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the feet on which he is to go about doing good, ours the eyes through which he is to look with compassion on the world, ours the hands with which he is to bless us now’.St Theresa
So, on the days when we feel we’re carrying the world on our shoulders, we need to remember that we are also bearing Christ to meet the world’s pain and give people life.
There are times when, like Balaam’s ass, we shall see things that others can’t or won’t see. Then we have to do something about it. Balaam’s ass tried first of all to draw the boss’ attention to the demands of God, the angel standing in the way, and she got pretty rough treatment for her trouble. But then God gave her words to say, and Balaam began to take God seriously.
Being a Christian, being outspoken for God, isn’t always going to be easy or pleasant. Balaam was trying to maintain his reputation and wasn’t keen on anything standing in his way. We shall find ourselves challenging important people and vested interests – that can be very hard, like crucifixion.
The Palm Sunday donkey reminds us that when we go with Christ, there are no promises about easy rides. We know, however, that at the end of the suffering, after the death, there was resurrection. We know that Christ has promised to keep us company, but as we carry him with us in the world, he won’t avoid confrontation, or allow us to. ‘In the world’, he said, ‘you will have tribulation’. We know that, from personal experience, and from sharing in the pain of the world as people starve, exploit and kill each other. We shall have to hang on with some of the donkey’s stubbornness to the belief that Christ really has overcome the evil in the world, and that we shall share that victory.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!