There is an old story about a pastor who was having problems and decided to leave the ministry. But he ran into trouble trying to find another job. Finally, in desperation, he took a job at the local zoo. The gorilla at the zoo had died, and since it had been the children’s favorite animal, the zoo officials decided to put someone in a gorilla costume until a real replacement could be found. To the minister’s surprise, he liked the job. He got lots of attention and could eat all he wanted. There was no stress, no deadlines, complaints, or committees. And he could take a nap anytime he wanted.
One day he was feeling particularly frisky. So, he began swinging on the trapeze. Higher and higher he went. But suddenly, he lost his grip, flipped a couple of times, and landed in the next cage. Stunned and dazed, he looked up and saw a ferocious lion. In his panic, he forgot he was supposed to be a gorilla and yelled, “Help! Help!”
The ferocious lion turned toward him and said, “O shut up man. I’m a minister too.”
You might be wondering at this point how this story relates to our Palm Sunday scripture passage. Well, the main point is that we are all called to be ministers, of all different kinds and with different jobs.
In the Palm Sunday story, the minister is not even named, but his gift is legendary. Jesus must have met this man at some point and made an arrangement to loan Jesus his donkey and her colt for Jesus to ride as he entered Jerusalem for the last time.
Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Zechariah had predicted that the coming Messiah would make a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Listen to his words: Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and sitting on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9:9). This guy with the donkey made it possible for the scripture to be fulfilled.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could talk to that guy with the donkey? We might ask questions like: How did you get to know Jesus? Did he let you know ahead of time when he might need to borrow your donkey? Why did he take the donkey and her colt? Maybe the colt would need its mother’s milk, or maybe Jesus didn’t want the colt to be separated from its mother if things didn’t go well. Were the secret code words, “The Lord needs them,” arranged earlier? Did you know what he was going to do with your donkey? When Jesus finished with the donkey and sent it back to you, was the donkey different in any way?
Now here are some questions for us: Did you know that you are supposed to be a donkey giver too? Not literally, of course, but you probably have some things that our Lord can use. Some of us can sing and play instruments, some are good at staying in touch with others by phone and computer. Some are good at leadership, managing money, fixing things that need mending, cooking, teaching, counseling, being a friend. All of us have something that Jesus needs for his kingdom.
All of us have some “donkeys”, something that our Lord needs to help him enter another town, another workplace, another heart.
Max Lucado, Texas preacher and writer, claims that the guy with the donkey is one of a long line of folks who gave little things to God. The Bible is full of stories of donkey givers.
One day by the Sea of Galilee, thousands of people wanted to hear the words of life from the lips of Jesus. He needed something to stand on so he could be heard by the crowd. There was a boat very close to the water’s edge. One of Jesus’ disciples probably approached the owner of the boat and asked, “Would it be alright if Jesus stands in your boat while he talks to these people?” And the owner said, “Sure, he’s welcome to use my boat.” That boat owner was a “donkey giver” so to speak.
Later Jesus was addressing another large group of people on a hillside. The people were mesmerized and wanted to hear more. But it had been a long time since breakfast and their stomachs were growling and the children were whining. The disciple, Philip, found a teenage boy who had two small pickled fish and five loves of barley bread. Philip asked the boy, “Would you be willing to give your lunch basket to Jesus?” “Sure,” said the boy never dreaming that the whole crowd would be fed because he shared his lunch. That boy was a donkey giver.
Later, when the shadow of an awful cross was lengthening ominously and tension was building, Jesus needed a day off, a quiet day, to withdraw from the neediness of the crowds. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, his long-time friends, in the town of Bethany, took him into their home. Jesus was blessed by a family of donkey givers.
Then on that horrific day of his crucifixion, when the skies were darkened by a solar eclipse, Jesus dragged the heavy cross toward the place where he would be executed. His loss of blood and strength led him to collapse. He fell, battering his face into the dirt, filling his mouth with grit and blood. Then a Roman soldier, anxious to get this over with, chose a strong looking stranger to pick up the cross and carry it for him. Simon was the stranger who didn’t have much choice in the matter, but for the rest of eternity he would rejoice that his shoulder and strength bore the Master’s cross. He too was a donkey giver.
The guy or gal with the donkey is a terrific role model for each of us. People are still giving things to Jesus so that he can expand his kingdom. We cannot be in a relationship with Jesus if we are not connected to his mission. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Our church is a place God wants to use so he can launch people who will expand God’s mission. God leads people to our church not just for their own good and healing but also to touch and transform the world around us. God has work for us to do not just here in our particular place, but also in places we may never visit.
We want Jesus to bless us, keep our families and loved ones safe, provide for our material needs and please get us out of this corona-virus exile and back to the good life. God says, “Yes I want to bless you, but not necessarily in the way you expect, I want you to deny self, pick up a cross, and follow me. I will lead you to places where I am working and I’ll include you. You will be an instrument in my hand. And as you pour yourself out in my name, you will be deeply blessed.”
St. Paul said to the Romans, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” To the Corinthians he wrote this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Then Paul listed some of an endless list of spiritual gifts – prophecy, teaching, giving, leadership, compassion, wisdom, and healing.
What’s your gift? Are you using it for God’s glory?” Are you a donkey giver?”
One day an older woman, a bank executive, was walking past one of the offices at the bank. She looked in and saw a young woman sitting at her desk, crying. The executive went in to see if she could help. “Nothings’s that bad,” she said. “Tell me about it.”
The younger woman explained: “My mother died about a month ago. Just this past weekend, I got engaged. We have planned a June wedding, but I can’t do this alone, and now I don’t have my mother to help me.”
“Oh yes you do,” said the executive, “I’ll be your mother!” As they hugged each other an incredible friendship was born – all because one person saw two things: a hurting person and a ministry she could provide.
I wonder who is that needy person in my life, in your life, that needs our ministry.
I wonder when this life is over, what will have been most important to us, what will have been the most worthwhile use of our time, our talents, and our treasure.
Some memories will dissolve into oblivion, but we will celebrate forever every single donkey we have given to the Master!
Please pray with me that we may keep our priorities in order and that we may know and do what we need to so we can expand God’s love in our world.