When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.’”
This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying 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.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
He sat on them? That’s a stretch, to say the least! Now, maybe we can chalk this up to Matthew’s penchant for tying every event he can to an Old Testament prophecy, no matter how far a reach (ba-dum-bum...) Mark and Luke each speak only of a colt, singular. Or maybe Matthew wants to be sure we get the connection to kingship, at the risk of absurdity. This ride of Jesus’ is not a mere victory lap – it is the entry of a king into his capital. But this is a king so humble, he not only rides upon a donkey, but even upon its foal.
We don’t always associate monarchy with humility, but they merge in so many stories of Jesus’ earthly life, from his birth in a rough-hewn animal shelter to his traveling company of fishermen, prostitutes and tax collectors. In fact, it’s not the humility that is hard to locate in this story – it’s the kingship. The royal gifts presented by the magi, the defensive measures of King Herod, and ultimately the crown of thorns - these disclose Jesus’ true nature, a monarch disguised as a commoner. That is why the epistle reading for Palm Sunday is always the hymn about Jesus found in Philippians 2:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Unless we really think about where the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, came from, it can be hard to grasp just how dramatic a lowering of status he endured, consenting to be bounded in a human body, in time and space, to be subject to the care and cruelties of limited human beings. (Matthew West and Vince Gill sing a song I like, called Leaving Heaven, which flips the perspective…)
Today in prayer let’s try exalting Jesus, even imagining him in the courts of heaven or a throne room, whatever those might look like for you. And then let’s imagine ourselves there with him. What feelings come up in you? Do you want to praise him? Flee from that presence? Go nearer? Go with the feelings, pray into them.
The divine reality we celebrate is that the God who made everything loved us so much, he decided to come into our earthly reality to woo us, to court us, to come and sit with us. Maybe that other colt is meant for you, for me, to ride along next to him, to the cross and beyond, into Life.