The “Friendly Beasts” has always been one of my favorite Christmas hymns. If you have, or have had pets you know how important animals are to out lives. As a hospice chaplain I meet people for whom their animals are their last friend, another being they feel connected to and shows love and connection to them. Animals are amazing and sometimes I think our modern-world makes it to easy to separate ourselves from the animals around us.
In Jesus’s time animals were a necessary and important part of daily life. In today’s story–and we hear it every year–Jesus sends the disciples to find a donkey that Jesus later rides into Jerusalem to be met with people who wave palms and shout “Hosanna”! The donkey is not only part of the proof of Jesus’s divinity in that he told the disciples exactly where to find the donkey but the young donkey also becomes a key part of the social drama and guerrilla theater in which Jesus is celebrated as King of Jews. Riding on a horse was symbolic of royalty in those days, so for Jesus to ride a donkey was not only conveying the message that there was divine royalty about Jesus, but it also one of the ways in which Jesus subverted the social symbology of the day. For Jesus to ride an animal into the city was a way to assert his authority, but using a donkey rather than a horse also poked fun at power structures of the time, particularly the Roman structure. In a not so subtle way this poking fun at the symbols of the power structure was a direct assault on the authority of the system itself. A way of saying ‘you think you are are so powerful on that horse, come down just a bit closer to the people and lets see how powerful you really are!’ It was a dare, and by the end of the week the powers that were, would respond to Jesus’ challenge. But is wasn’t only Jesus being subversive it was the crowd as well. By welcoming Jesus with palm fronds, a welcome reserved for entry of the victorious, the crowd proclaimed that Jesus had arrived as the victorious power in the city.
There remains so much social injustice in the world that I wonder what Jesus would focus on if he were teaching in the flesh among us today. No doubt Jesus would focus on teaching on the reality of God and kindom of all people, but I wonder what other issues of justice he would speak out on. Likely, as in Jesus’s day, one foci would be the systematic injustice and oppression of the poor and outcasts of society. That’s a nice neat concise sentence, but truly addressing systematic injustice is messy and unpredictable and certainly requires calling into question the authority of those with the power to oppress–those collecting the taxes and those with the political connections to keep the Roman legions at bay. Where, I wonder, is our donkey today? What has Jesus sent us into the cities to find that will assist us in subverting the authorities who allow and perpetuate injustice? When we can answer that and start to see it in our streets then we too will shout Hosanna in the streets!