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Holy Week and the Call to Peacemaking: On Being Jesus’ “Donkeys for Peace”

On Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem as an emissary of peace

As Jesus was coming down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem after his stay the night before with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, he stopped at a vantage point where the whole of Jerusalem spread out before him.  He gazed out at his “City of Peace,” and wept.  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only today you knew the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.   The time will come when your enemies will build walls around you and attack you from every side.  They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you failed to recognize that God had come to save you” (Luke 19: 41-44).

 

But this was not a “done deal.”  This was a contingent prophesy because there was still time for Jerusalem to repent and embrace the things that make for peace.  Jesus was determined to make his appeal one more time for God’s inclusive community of love, love even for one’s enemies.  As a sign of his way of peace, he mounted a donkey and headed for Jerusalem.  Because this was the week of Passover and large crowds of Jews would be gathering in Jerusalem, the Romans were sending in armed reinforcements to “keep the peace.”  As the Roman military officers approached Jerusalem from one direction on their stallions of war, Jesus approached on his donkey of peace.  Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures and chose this symbol of nonviolent peacemaking to reinforce his message.

 

“Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion; shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.  He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9: 9-10).

 

On the donkey as a symbol and instrument of peace

  • Jesus rides a donkey into places of violence where peace is especially needed.

  • The donkey goes all the way in to the situation.

  • Jesus isn’t a warrior on a fast horse to ride in, inflict damage and escape; but on a donkey he goes in to stay.

  • The donkey runs the same risk of being killed as its rider.

On being Jesus’ donkeys for peace

Jesus won’t get to as many places or as fast if we and other donkeys aren’t willing to be ridden into those situations.  These situations could include

  • interpersonal situations – family, school, neighborhood or workplace conflicts.

  • wider and deadlier conflicts – fights, riots, war zones

  • institutional or social-political situations – in our Church, educational systems, government policies, corporate practices, the criminal justice system.

  • What God said to Jeremiah, Jesus says to us: “Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you to say.  And don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you” (Jeremiah 1: 7-8).