Palm Sunday – A King and a Donkey

by Bishop Robert Barron


A donkey was, in Jesus’ time, much what it is today: a humble, simple, unassuming little animal, used by very ordinary people to do their work. The wealthy and powerful might own horses or a team of oxen and a political leader might ride a stately steed, but none of them would have anything to do with donkeys.

All of his public career, Jesus had resisted when people called him the Messiah. He sternly ordered them to be silent. When they came to carry him off and make him King, he slipped away.

But now he is willing to be proclaimed precisely at the moment when he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Gospel is clear: this is not only a donkey; it is a colt, the foal of an ass, on whom no one had ever previously sat. This is a young, inexperienced, unimpressive donkey. This is the animal upon whom Jesus rides into town in triumph. In other words, this is no ordinary King; this is not the Messiah that they expected.

Now let us look even more closely at the animal. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go into a neighboring town and to find this beast of burden. “If anyone asks, respond, ‘the Master has need of it’” (Matthew 21:3). The humble donkey, pressed into service, is a model of discipleship. Our purpose in life is not to draw attention to ourselves, to have a brilliant career, or to aggrandize our egos. Rather, our purpose is to serve the Master’s need—to cooperate, as he sees fit, with his work.

What was the donkey’s task? He was a “Christopher,” a Christ-bearer. He carried the Lord into Jerusalem, paving the way for the passion and the redemption of the world. Would anyone have particularly noticed him? Probably not, except perhaps to laugh at this ludicrous animal.

The task of every disciple is just the same: to be a “Christopher,” a bearer of Christ to the world. Might we be unnoticed in this? Yes. Might we be laughed at? Of course. But the Master has need of us and so we perform our essential task.

   

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  • concerned citizen

    What a wonderful reflection, Bishop Barron. “The humble donkey, pressed into service, is a model of discipleship. Our purpose in life is not to draw attention to ourselves, to have a brilliant career, or to aggrandize our egos. Rather, our purpose is to serve the Master’s need—to cooperate, as he sees fit, with his work.” We are reminded by this statement that becoming the richest man in the world does not matter to God. Nor is being the most famous man in town. And nor is being the most powerful man in the world. What matter most is whether we have followed His will. Our Blessed Mother did not form any religious order, did not perform great miracles, nor did she hold any position in the Church. But she is the Queen of All Saints and Queen of All Martyrs, Prophets, Patriarchs. And for one reason: She followed the will of God perfectly in every way.

    • ber

      Loved this reflection on our lady you are so right concerned our lady stepped back she had fulfilled her part then retired will think about this thanks

  • denis

    Thank you Bish Robert, I am going to use this useful, simple meditation this morning when I take a short service for a group of inpatients in the local psychiatric hospital . A very humble group of suffering folk .

  • D Blyth

    As He submitted to the Passion and death with humility – even with public disdain, we must spread the Gospel with humility. If needed we may use words to spread the Gospel.

  • ber

    Christ bearer is it not this very act we preform when we revive Christ in the Eucharist we bring him fourth in the highways and byways of our town and country
    He is hidden unsuming quite because he uses our feet hands ect to come among his people he does not come among fanfare or noise but in the quite indwelling of our souls as I said before we become inlumend with Christ’s presence although we are blind as not to see if the Eucharist has indeed transformed us we will be a light to the nations what are we but simple donkeys that the lord wishes to use
    Blessings on your day

  • Dude_Abides

    The biggest most colossal ironies in the history of man was that he took the best, the meekest, the one most filled with humility, love for his fellow man and accused him, brought him to trail, beat and tortured him and then nailed him to a cross. Why? Because of his blasphemous arrogance! He made the simple mistake of calling himself “the Son of God”.
    Amen to all, this Day of the Palms

    • Mary Hilchey

      So true…

  • mrskellyscl

    I’ve been listening to this Gospel for many, many years, and like most people. I have focused so much on the crowd that I have overlooked this important member of the cast every time. One thing has always intrigued me: I’ve often wondered who it was that owned the donkey that would give it up on demand with no payment, nor even asking who their Master was. Thank you so much for this insight. I’ll be thinking about it all day.

  • ber

    I just heard an interesting fact in old the donkey was used by royalty when they came in peace they would ride on a donkey intresting

  • Jane

    I was at a farm recently where there were three donkeys and two miniature horses. One donkey was very standoffish while all the other animals were friendly and let us pet them. I was told that some wild dogs had gotten ino the pen and the lone donkey rounded up all the other animals and took them up to the barn. Then the donkey went after all the dogs himself. This Palm Sunday when I think Of Christ riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey I’m reminded of the donkey at the farm. Things are not what they seem, that what appears like weakness is our greatest strength.

    • D Blyth

      Much our faith can appear to be a paradox – a contradiction.
      The Redeemer is murdered, but is resurrected.

      • Mary Hilchey

        Well said….

    • ber

      So true lovely storie

    • Elizabeth

      Faith in action.

    • Mary Hilchey

      HOLY…….

    • that florida lady

      These animals are not stupid.

    • Kristin Braly

      Jane, please consider posting this story on Facebook. It deserves a hearing! ♡♡♡

    • kayeloney@cox.net

      What a beautiful story Thank you

  • Patrick Cassidy

    I teach religous ed to 6th graders and I talked about the donkey in regards to Palm Sunday. The kids thought the donkey was a funny animal and made annoying noises (they started imitating the braying at this point lol).

    But, the donkey is such an unassuming and unexpected servant of YHWH. You wouldon’t expect something more powerful like horses, oxen, or even more exotic and powerful (lion, elephant, etc…).

    The fact that the donkey was chosen shows that even the lowliest of disciples have a part to play in God’s plan.

    • Elizabeth

      It is us humans who give lowliest and highest labels to those around us. When we are humble and we can see with God’s eyes, it is then the true image of the person we come into contact is recognized. Motherhood – The ultimate example St. Anne raising her blessed daughter. St. Anne through her love of God, had Mary consecrated to God, learned about her God. In turn, Mary, a humbled servant of the Lord, gave birth to Jesus. Joseph, devoted to his God helped in raising Jesus. You know the rest of the story.

    • Geraldine (Gerry) Novotny

      I lived in the Azores for a couple of years and found on that first day that donkeys are everywhere! They brayed a loud screeching sound that drove me crazy! I told my husband I was going back to the states! However, as time went by I began to love those cute nuisances. Driving along the island on cobblestone roads they were there but hard to see because they were so overloaded with corn, wheat, milk cans, you name it…hard working animals. When I got home to the USA I missed the braying… Yes, the donkey is a simple, hard working animal I learned to appreciate… I sometimes felt the natives didn’t treat these animals worthily enough.

  • Anton D

    This Palm Sunday, Bishop Robert Barron’s Homily, March 20, 2016
    ‘ The Master has need of you ‘

    http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/homily/the-master-has-need-of-you/5094/

    • Sam

      Yes, this is a great homily! I’m always amazed at the insights Bishop Barron evokes from the readings, and I’m usually left with something to wonder about and ruminate on. A Blessed Holy week to all.

    • Elizabeth

      Thank you Anton D for Bishop Barron’s homily for today: Purpose of living – Master has need of me. How do I help? I bloom where I am planted.

  • chuck

    who was the closes to Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem? which crowd member shouting Hosanna? none of them were as close as the donkey. the true Christ bearer was the humble donkey. i want to be a donkey.

    • ber

      Me too chuck me too

  • Cynthia Millen

    How beautiful and meaningful that the donkey to this day has a cross on its back. Look it up. The fur is darker and forms a clear cross where Jesus would have sat. Creation is full of signs like these. The humble sand dollar has a poinsettia on one side and a lily on the other. It has five holes in it to represent the wounds of Christ, and when you crack it open, dozens of little doves fall out. Amazing!
    God is showing His love everywhere, if we will only see.

    • Geraldine (Gerry) Novotny

      Legend has it that the flower of the Dogwood tree represents the Cross. It is white with two long petals and two short. Little splashes of red and little holes at the edges of the petals represent where the nails were.

  • http://www.fromtheabbey.com/ Jeffrey Arrowood

    I just learned that the king on a donkey is an Old Testament sign as well. Zechariah 9:9-10 even talks about a king riding a donkey into Jerusalem. Other instances of leaders riding donkeys are 1Kings 1:33, Judges 5:10; 10:4; 12:14; and 2 Samuel 16:2. I’ve never heard a homily that made this connection. I’m curious to learn more about the significance!

  • Mary Hilchey

    LORD – help me to be Christopher……….Amen

  • rtclovesmac

    As I read this reflection I was reminded of Simon the Cyrene who was also unexpectedly called into service of the Lord, to help carry is cross. In some depictions of this scene Simon is carrying the cross for Cross as he walks behind him, and in others he is carrying the Cross with him. I have often wondered what happened to Simon. Each time I pray the 4th decade of the Sorrow Mysteries of the Rosary, I am reminded of how God, in His love for us, allowed humanity to help in during this part of His Passion….making us part of it too. We are all called to be Christ-bearers in so many ways.

  • Joseph T. Garcia

    Be a “Christopher” in the world .

  • Maite Gonzalez

    I was impressed, touched by the thought of being like The Lord’s donkey. It made me smile and drove home how beautiful to serve is and how beautiful to Not be noticed !!!

  • concerned citizen

    I had always wondered what would have happened if this unnamed character in today’s Gospel did not lend his colt. Would Jesus have been able to enter Jerusalem riding in a colt? And thereby fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah.

    We do not really know, but what we do know is that there was this follower of Jesus who was just like a “film extra” or “background actor” that played an immortal role with a simple act of charity in the greatest drama that was about to unfold. Much like the boy who gave his basket of five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish he may have not realized how important this simple gesture of selfless generosity that he just did.

    I am sure the man who lent his colt, did not know that Jesus riding on a colt had a big significance in the fulfillment of a prophesy and carried with it deep and profound meaning. He simply lent his colt because he probably thought Jesus was just tired and could not walk any longer. He did not question why Jesus needed the colt. He did not ask how he would get back his colt. The colt being a means of transport may have a significant monetary value and another man in his place may have refused to lend the colt without a bond or security. Did the man ever get back his colt, I wonder?

    This only shows how much love this unknown follower had for Jesus. And because of his love, his apparent ordinary gesture of charity became instrumental in the Palm Procession to Jerusalem. It was a love that did not expect anything in return. It was a love that did not measure the cost. It was a love that was spontaneous when the opportunity to do good faced this unknown character.

    • that florida lady

      Trust me, they would’ve found one for him . At the feeding of the 5000 they had to be resourceful so, they would’ve found one for him

      • concerned citizen

        Don’t be too sure. They could have found many donkeys, but to find one owner who would lend his donkey for free and without assurance it will be returned is a different thing. Anyway, the point I am driving still remains.

        • that florida lady

          Are sure they thought it was the right one ? Knowing God’s humor this donkey was more than likely spirited and funny with a personality.

    • ber

      Some good valued points to consider

  • that florida lady

    I like the simpleness of a donkey. It’s not a horse it’s not a Toyota it’s not a Mercedes, but a donkey . Truth is, it’s not even a limo of the first century . God kept it simple so people could relate! I always think and meditate how he’s involved in every little bit of our lives . Not in the big things that show off. He is involved in the simple things .

  • Nancy Rynders

    So many thoughts and challenges for the upcoming Holy Week from this reflection: be a Christ bearer, be humble, be a servant to others, do what Jesus asks of us without need of praise or reward……thanks, Bishop Baron. We anxiously await the celebration of Easter, our eternal hope.

  • Rick

    I don’t think a Lenten Season has ever been so blessed as has this for me. Bishop Barron (may I call you Father Barron) has had an immensely important role in this. Every Reflection has been very personal for me. I know you did not write these for me and I know God revealed His purposes to me through your writing. I am saying, “thank you.” I hear the Word of God spoken through your words. I thank God that you have chosen to be his Christopher, and that through your humble service I am choosing to also be God’s Christopher… in whatever role he asks me to play. I am deeply grateful.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    I can never think on this scripture without thinking on the Christmas scriptures. It was a humble donkey that brought Mary to Bethlehem to give birth to the King, It was a humble donkey who bore the Child Jesus to safety in Egypt. The donkey of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is the spiritual descendent. It pleases me to think of myself as one these simple beasts

    • Elizabeth

      Humility is knowing we are children of God, no more no less than anyone else on earth. And when we recognize it is through God’s graces we are here on earth for his purpose (with all our trials and errors of our life) we realize if we can persevere in faith, God will use us in whatever way he desires – not our desires but God’s desires. Happy and Blessed Palm Sunday.

    • concerned citizen

      Barbra, that’s a nice story to make. the offspring of the donkey that brought Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the donkey that brought Mary to Bethlehem was the donkey that brought Jesus to Jerusalem. Like the story of the the three trees. One tree ended up being used for the manger, the other for the boat, and the other for the Cross.

    • Kilroy

      Not unusual to ride a donkey as it was the chief means of transportation besides your feet in Biblical times. The colt of an ass is a much different set of circumstances as it is not yet considered a beast of burden. Jesus might have almost dragged his feet sitting on this small animal. Talk about humility.

  • Penelope

    “Pressed into service” – I love this expression. How much easier it could be once retired, to sit and relax, and to do the retirement thing, golf, travel etc. However, once we encounter Jesus Christ, fix our eyes on him, the things of the world do grow strangely dim.
    My husband and I have been “pressed into service” at a moment’s notice quite a lot these days with our children and grandchildren, while their moms and dads are away, or just taking a well-needed rest. What a blessing…two more grandsons will be with us from Good Friday to Easter Monday…we will have company along the way with us for the Walk of the Cross, the Liturgy of the Cross, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday….how Good is the Lord, and how privileged are we.
    When the call comes to bring change to our day, how I love the way the thoughts and ideas come to Jack & I as together we talk about how to accommodate the person or persons needing our help. The joy of retirement for me has been the freedom that comes with it, to be able to put aside the plans for our day, and to be pressed into service for others. And this comes in many forms, in addition to our children needing a helping hand.
    When I was a child, my dad told us that the donkey was marked with a Cross on his back because it carried Jesus.
    We too have been marked for service. Thanks be to God!

    Wishing you all a very blessed Holy Week. Please know that you are in my prayers.

  • kayeloney@cox.net

    Jesus was full filling the prophecy’s, of what was said of the Messiah. For everything had to be for filled just as the prophet’s foretold, because God does everything he say he well do, the Holy Trinity does not forget or lie. I Love this time of year the renewal of the faithful and the Spring time go together in Life. I fill God’s Peace in this season of His Love being Poured out for all of us. Peace be with you and with your Spirit.

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    A thought occurred to me. My niece is a psychological counselor she say that donkeys are good therapeutic pets. And are included in some equine therapy facilities

  • queensrealm

    ….awesome , thank you.

  • Mary Jane Madeline

    Bishop Barron, thank you for another good reflection. I happened to be responding late (again), but got a text from one of our sons about it. Sending the appropriate message for a Happy Palm Sunday- “The Master has need of it”. Really good to take pause as to the meaning God intends for each of us.
    Blessings to all for a holy ” Holy Week”.

  • Esther

    Dear Bishop Barron: This is so well stated. I read your inspiring reflections every day. So fortunate to have you in our midst. We have need of you. Thank God for your intellect and your ministry. Esther

  • D Blyth

    From Fr Richard Rohr
    On the cross, God is revealed as vulnerability itself (the Latin word vulnus means wound). The path to holiness is so different than any of us would have wished or imagined; and yet after the fact, we will all recognize that it was our littleness and wrongness that kept the door to union and love permanently wedged open every day of our life.
    http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1103098668616&ca=4ef74094-e5b2-438c-bce4-db4d65457d04

  • Màire Ní Bhroin

    Thx Bishop. This prayer/haiku is the result of my meditation on the Word and your Reflections.Peace!

    Paschal Prayer
    Lord, press me into your service,
    Like the lowly colt upon which You rode,
    As paschal grapes…crushed into sweet Easter wine!

  • Jackie

    In our society we tend to judge others by their accomplishments etc. It is not easy for us to just “be” who we are because we are so intent in proving our leadership roles etc. Putting aside our titles, our net worth, our good deeds is humbling and this is what Jesus is teaching us as he enters Jerusalem with the full knowledge that in a few days the people will turn against him.

  • Kilroy

    The Lord may have need of us, but at 86, soon to be 87, I ponder what that need might be. How do I discern it? I am the servant of the Spirit, have been for some time since I learned to trust in Him. Yet I do not hear him in the wind saying anything. I listen, I observe but can’t find the key. My days are long, shortened at times by prayer, but I miss the light of my life, my wife of 65 years. Maybe it is the noise of grief getting in the way… I can’t seem to figure it out.