This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, when we listen again to the account of Jesus descending the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, the temple mount before him across the valley, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. In many of our churches, we will role-play the procession of pilgrims, cutting palm branches to wave in celebration, declaring, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Donkeys wander the pages of biblical history, in the hereditary blessing of the tribe of Judah, in the appointing of Saul to be the first king of the people, and the divine decision to appoint David in Saul’s place. In coming to Jerusalem in this manner, Jesus deliberately references the prophets, such as Zechariah 9:9-10, making the bold and subversive statement that he comes as the one appointed by God to be king over his people.
But in the reading from the Old Testament set for Morning Prayer today, there is another donkey. Jeremiah 22:1-5, 13-19 records the Lord addressing Jehoiakim, king of Judah sitting on the throne of David. The Lord charges Jehoiakim and the royal court to act with justice and righteousness, but also judges them for having set their hearts on dishonest gain, the shedding of innocent blood, practicing oppression and violence. Therefore the Lord declares: “They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Alas, lord!’ or ‘Alas, his majesty!’ With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried—dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”
If the rulers of the people refuse to turn from the shedding of innocent blood, and act with justice and righteousness, the Davidic king will be given the burial of a donkey, dragged off and thrown out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
This donkey, too, is surely in Jesus’ mind as he winds his way down the hillside.