The Way of The Donkey

"Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Matthew 21:1-11

March 31, 2023, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Jean Louis Degienne

Made Flesh

Jesus’ life and death fell smack dab in the middle of the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. This was a 200-year period where the empire largely enjoyed “peace” — but it came at great cost. 

There was only “peace” because of the ever-present threat of imperial violence. Any uprisings were put down, brutally, and thousands were crucified for challenging the order of the day. It was peace achieved through domination and control.

We know what this kind of peace is like. It is the logic of responding to guns with more guns. It is the logic of “keeping the peace” with batons and beatings. It is the logic of scapegoating.

We do this to ourselves, too. We respond to our fears, traumas, and weaknesses by attempting to deny, repress, ignore, organize, power through, overcome. These are all forms of dominance and control. This is the way of Rome. It is the way of the warhorse. 

But then Jesus paraded into town on a puny little donkey. Instead of riding high above the crowd on a mighty warhorse, his feet dragged the ground, seated as he was on a borrowed donkey colt.

Instead of carrying a sword and shield, he just had his old sandals and cloak—no armor to defend him, no tools for waging war.

Instead of being surrounded by a mighty army, he was just accompanied by the ragtag group of fallible, forgiven folks who had been with him all along. 

Parading in on a donkey was an ancient symbol of revolution. Jesus was using that script, but he didn’t do what everyone was expecting. He didn’t overthrow the power of Rome and replace it with a new regime. 

His donkey did not go toe-to-toe with Pilate’s warhorse. He wasn’t that kind of revolutionary. He was doing something entirely different. He went right to the heart of Rome’s domination and control and when he got there, he was nothing more and nothing less than himself. He continued to live with love, honestly and authentically, undefended, right in the belly of the beast. Which is to say, he was human. He surrendered the false idea of peace through domination.

If the Peace of Rome, the way of the warhorse, is about domination and control, then the Peace of Christ, and his little donkey, is about vulnerability, surrender, mercy. 

Of course, all the disciples run away. It’s one thing to die heroically in battle. It’s another thing entirely to die in vulnerability and surrender. 

We say we want mercy, forgiveness, and love. But the truth is, at least for me, I just want to get my way. I want security, and control, and power over the things that threaten me. Jesus’ way, the donkey’s way, the Peace of Christ, is about relinquishing control, becoming vulnerable and finding our humanity. 

As far as I can tell, this is the only way through death into life: to let go of our illusions of domination and control, to embrace the strength of surrender, vulnerability, and love. In other words, to enter into real life. In the end, it’s only in dying that we are born, in releasing that we are held, and in weakness that we find strength. 

Dwelling Among Us

How do dynamics of power and control play out in your life or the life of your city? 

What would it mean for you to enter this Holy Week seeking to be nothing more and nothing less than human? 

About The Author

Rev. Sarah Wiles