April 8, 2001
As you read the Bible to gather insight into the meaning of life it is important to pay attention to details and not just read in general.
A key detail for the passage of Luke we just read is that Jesus has just been talking about risking our lives as a standard way of interacting with the world. In talking about risking one's life Jesus is not just talking but doing. It was what Jesus said which got him in the most trouble. If he had simply held his tongue and not made connections between the religious and political establishments he wouldn't have risked his life. If he had simply held his tongue and not made connections between healing and forgiveness he wouldn't have risked his life. If he had simply held his tongue and not made connections between individual lives and the life of the world he wouldn't have risked his life.
However Jesus risked his life and reputation by continually making connections the economic and political and military and medical and educational establishments didn't care for. We all too often fail to follow Jesus into the risky areas of life.
In a sense we lack both the wisdom and the courage to challenge the reactionary elements in the status quo.
Then we hear about Jesus not just talking about taking risk, which is risky, in and of itself, but we see Jesus acting on it by heading straight for Jerusalem where prophets of risk-taking were done away with. Walking into the den of rule-makers with a sense of personal identity and freedom to joyfully live is the stuff of high drama and death. Jesus heading to Jerusalem was the high noon moment when he would either remain true to his vision of the freedom of GOD coming to earth or not.
This is the detail of context which every Biblical scene needs to take into account. What has gone on before and what will be the expected outcome of the scene surround every moment of life, both in the Bible and in our lives.
Here we see the details of risk and death, the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Between these two Jesus asks two disciples to go into a nearby village and untie a young donkey, a donkey too young to have yet been ridden.
As you might imagine, a tied young donkey both belongs to someone and is an investment in the future. Jesus says to acquire the donkey by simply going up to it and untying it and taking it. In any other context we would call that stealing.
Jesus anticipates that getting the unridden donkey would cause a problem and equips his disciples with this phrase, "The donkey's master needs him."
Now imagine that you are the donkey's owner. You think that the donkey is yours - you are the donkey's rightful master. The donkey is to do what you say and provide for your livelihood.
You see two people walk up to the donkey you had tied to await your return. They go beyond walking around it and admiring it and begin to untie it.
In today's world, imagine having just bought a new car and parking it on the street. As you come back to it after shopping you see two people walk up to your car, walk around it and then get in to drive off. How would you respond?
The master of the donkey (and that is what it says in the original Greek) asks, "What are you doing, untying my colt?"
This is like you running up to your car and asking, "What are doing, driving off in my car?"
The response for the two people is the second time we hear a key verse. Having it said twice in this short period is one of the details we need to pay attention to. Their response was to pass on what Jesus had said to them, "O master of the donkey, the donkey's master needs him."
That's kind of strange, isn't it. Who is the real master here?
We all of a sudden are faced with a moment of risk and decision. All of a sudden we face the question of what is ours and what is not.
Without paying attention to this little detail of the story we would have read over it too quickly to get to the exciting parade story of palms (as Mark records) and coats being placed before Jesus as a red-carpet to enter Jerusalem.
This is a rare moment in the story. We don't hear the response of the donkey's master, we simply see the donkey being brought to Jesus. We aren't told about the donkey's master coming along or anything else.
So what are your thoughts about the bind that the donkey's master was in when he heard those words, "The donkey's master needs him?"
I don't think that the donkey's master would have let the donkey go unless they had a moment of insight about ownership.
What do you think you own?
What if some people came to ask you for it saying, "The master needs what you have."?
All of a sudden we are back where we began with the question of risk.
So what does the master need from you. It is probably not an unridden donkey.
This is the end of the Lenten season. What have you learned about what is yours and what is ours and what is GOD's? What have you practiced holding more lightly so that when it is asked for from you that you will be able to let it, all the way, go? This story this morning puts it squarely before us - what is ownership? what is mastery.
So what does the master need from you. Might it be one extra prayer? Might it be one extra merciful deed? Might it be one extra financial gifts? Might it be a reorganization of your time or what you spend your energy on? Might it be simply and humbly doing the best you can without grumbling or expecting praise? Might it be spending time with stones to see how they are thankful for their place in life?
I expect it was not easy for the donkey's master to acknowledge that they both had a master. The donkey's master certainly had a claim upon the donkey. You and I certainly have a claim upon our goods and resources. We can claim we have come by them through the sweat of our brow.
This remarkable story also lets us know that the donkey had a second master, or a first master, depending on how you view such things. If we have been listening to the details we find that all of our resources also have a master in addition to ourselves.
It is this interplay between masters which brings us to the beginning Holy Week. During this week we will see and hear much about who's in charge. Is it Jesus washing the feet of his disciples? Is it High Priest Caiaphas saying it is better for one person to die? Is it Pilate knowing he had condemned an innocent man for political gain? Is it the male disciples who run away or the female disciples who are at the cross and tomb with Jesus?
This is a key moment for you to consider what is yours to continue nurturing and what is yours to give up?
As we turn to our Hymn of the Month pay particular attention to the second verse, "O Jesus, King of gentleness, do thou thyself our hearts possess that we may give thee all our days the willing tribute of our praise." This sounds a lot like the decision of the donkey's master. May it be yours as well.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.