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Palm Sunday Reflection 2020 “Keep Your Eye on the Donkey”

Mary Ann Rossi, CND

Honestly, how many of us would be eager to give allegiance to a leader who rode alone on a donkey down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day? What message would that leader wish to send the electorate about the next four years?

As Jesus entered Jerusalem in what seems to be a triumph, the people are ecstatic as they cry “Hosanna to the Son of David;/Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; /Hosanna in the highest.” Jesus lived his life among us with great determination and intentionality. As THE prophet and the herald of the reign of God, he chooses to enter on a donkey! AH! But even as a child I realized that a donkey would never have been my choice for a king to come to my Jerusalem.

The Scriptures tell us that the followers of Jesus had been reluctant to follow him to Jerusalem because he told them many times that he would suffer and die there. One wonders if they were surprised by the welcome he receives, a welcome always given to people of importance. In Mark’s account of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, the donkey takes up about 1/3 of the story. When he gives them detailed directions to obtain the beast, Jesus reminds his followers of the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9-10:

“Say to Daughter Zion,

‘Behold your king comes to you,     

Meek and riding on an ass,

And on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Jesus was clear; he wanted people to know the meaning of this entry into the holy city. The donkey is a symbol of who he has chosen to be… poor with the poor, standing with the occupied ones, right “in” with those on the edges of their society. His crucifixion was his final choice— stripped of everything, abandoned by most people.

But Jesus knew that the Jerusalem of his time was the center of religious authority whose practices were far from the Kingdom envisioned by God. From our 21st century perspective, we know that the friends of Jesus just “didn’t get it!!” The donkey should have been a sign! It has none of the grace or beauty of a thoroughbred horse. I have included a poem by G.K. Chesterton about the donkey, in case we city dweller have never seen one close-up!! Jesus had always identified with the poor, the little ones of God’s people, sinners and those who needed healing of body and spirit... so, of course he would have CHOSEN a donkey.

Will we still be “sheltering in place” on Palm Sunday, April 5? Maybe this year we will be holding “virtual” palms as we face our TV screen’s live streaming of the Liturgy. The pandemic has been like a punch in the gut for us North Americans. We are experiencing in a very small way what the poor experience: a struggle to shop, children without school meals, isolation from loved ones, loss of wages, unemployment, a shortage of medical care. If we are not in dire straits ourselves, our hearts ache as we watch the news. Our brothers and sisters are suffering, and we all feel so vulnerable. So, maybe there is room on the donkey as we ride WITH Jesus into HOLY WEEK, facing the present-day suffering of our world, steady in our faith that he is with us.

The Donkey by G.K. Chesterton

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 bray
And ears like errant wings—
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things.

The battered outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will;
Scourge, beat, 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 around my head
And palms about my feet!

Sister Mary Ann Rossi, CND lives in Norwalk with three other CND Sisters. She is part of the Wilton Associate community. Mary Ann has been a teacher, a Campus Minister, Vocation Director, and a Pastoral Associate. Recently she ministered to the CND Sisters at Lourdes.


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