Reflections from The Hill – Donkey Catchers (Mark 11:1-11)
If you reckon getting a taxi at the airport – any airport – is hard, try getting a donkey in
Then there’s the whole thing about his quantity of words. For all his famed economic word-smithing, Mark spends half his story of Jesus’ Entry into
We don’t know who the guys were who were sent on this dodgy errand. However, we can be sure that they weren’t just anybody. We know they were ‘disciples’ and any one of them could have been muscling their way into being a message-boy for the boss.
Jockeying for an advantage seems to have been one of the lifestyle choices of hanging out with the Messiah, a professional hazard for sky-pilots if ever there was one. Every last one of them was angling for some glory spot or other or arguing about who was the greatest.
There’s a delicious irony, then, that on this day, a day when Jesus’ ministry took a very public turn, a day when lots of loud hosannas greeted him, that these two blokes found themselves engaged in the most unromantic ministry of mucking out a stable.
Not only that, the old adage showed itself to be true yet again: when someone looks like a horse thief and sounds like a horse thief, the chances are they are horse thieves.
I’m not a horsey person myself but the thought of wrestling an untamed and uncooperative donkey toward an olive grove fills me with terror, especially if I had another agenda in mind when I was called from being a fisherman. I can hear myself think “This isn’t what I signed up for.”
Finding the donkey seems more like one of those jobs that ya just gotta do, a bit like being on the Worship Committee ordering the candles for Easter. It’s one of those inglorious jobs in the church that’s necessary but definitely not where the real action is.
In our Ordination service for Deacons, candidates are asked, "Will you seek to set forth Christ’s kingdom in the world, proclaiming the gospel and working for reconciliation, peace and justice?”
These are bracing words, words that are designed to get the blood flowing in the veins, words that cause the hairs on my arm to stand and wave in excitement each time I read them.
Justice; Peace; Reconciliation; words that indicate a white-knuckle ride over the rapids of culture, then rushing headlong into saving the world. It’s a breathtaking possibility.
No one ever tells you that setting forth the Kingdom – with vigour, imagination and enthusiasm – often boils down to things like ordering the candles or cleaning the toilets or, as these two disciples found out, catching a donkey.
It’s right here that Mark gives us some of his best insights: it’s a lesson that not a few clergy could do well to learn, including me, that the way to serve is by performing humble and routine tasks, sometimes ad nauseam.
Here’s a bit of a list of some things those first fellas did: they procured a boat for Jesus; they found out how much food was on hand for the multitude; they secured him a room for the Passover and, of course, they chased down a donkey.
Whatever they may have heard when Jesus said, "Follow me," it has led them into a ministry of handling the earthy details of everyday life. Mark understands – and helps us to understand – that this is what the ministry of Jesus is really all about.
It’s all about preparing the way for Jesus, true, but this is a phrase that cuts two ways. On the one hand, we are called to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. It’s his ministry and not ours. To not put too fine a point on it, we’re nothing but a mob of donkey-catchers.
On the other hand, the routine, often exhausting, bags-under-the-eyes, details of donkey-catching are gathered into the great arc of Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. It’s the real deal.
In Mark, the Twelve are sent out to proclaim the gospel, to cast out demons, to heal the sick and to exercise authority. It’s an impressive list. He also desperately wants us to know that what this looks like is often a matter of folding newsletters, or locking up the church after worship, or visiting an incoherent and incontinent parishioner or writing a few words on the back of an envelope on the way to our fifth service in a week.
In Mark’s hard-edged world, "preparing the way of the Lord" usually looks very like standing knee-deep in the mire of a stable somewhere, trying to corral a donkey.