BY: Fr. Vincent Chukwuma Onwukwe.

On every Palm/Passion Sunday, we listen to the beautiful story of Jesus riding on a donkey while He triumphantly entered Jerusalem. One of the striking points about this story is that Jesus chose to ride on a donkey instead of a horse which is a more majestic and kingly animal. What a fortunate donkey! Secondly, the donkey had to be untied before Jesus journeyed with it. Furthermore, unlike Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of the story, which record that the donkey was only one, Matthew’s account indicates that besides a tied donkey was a tied colt. One should think that Matthew’s account is more accurate than those of Mark and Luke if the story is read in light of Zechariah 9:9, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” These notable factors in the story can offer us a lot of lessons.

One would have expected Jesus, the King of kings, to ride on a more regal animal like the horse. But the horse and what it represents does not seem to capture the image of Jesus’ ministry as a Saviour. Among other things, the horse is a physically strong animal used for wars and competition. But donkeys, on the other hand, are burden bearers: they carry a lot of burdens on their bodies. This resonates with Jesus’ mission of carrying our burdens of sin and sickness (cf Is 53:4-5). Moreover, Jesus did/does not conquer with physical strength like the horse would do. On the contrary, he triumphed/triumphs through love, compassion and forgiveness. The Holy Week story is a story of a Man who carried our burdens and bore our infirmities (Is 54:4-5), a Man who had no sin but was made sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).


Apart from being burden bearers, donkeys, among other things, symbolise service, patient suffering, and humility. These qualities are ascribable to Jesus, as recorded in Is 50 and Phil 2. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). He gave his back to those who struck Him, His cheeks to those who pulled out His beard, and did not hide his face from shame and spittle (Is 50:6). He humbled himself to the point of accepting the shameful death on the cross (Phil 2:8). What a sacrificial Saviour He is!
Notably, the donkeys were tied and had to be untied before Jesus used them. We can draw two interpretative implications from this point. In each of these implications, the untied donkeys represent the people of God. First, the purpose of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, where he was crucified, was to unbind us from the bondage of sin. Hence, the untying of the donkeys points to our freedom from the bondage of Satan. Through the passion and death of Jesus, we are rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sin (Col 1:13-14). We must therefore take advantage of this moment of grace, asking Jesus to free us from the sins that cling so closely (Heb 12:1). Second, the untying of the donkeys implies that we can only journey with Jesus (or rather, Jesus can only journey with and use us) when we are free. Therefore, we must free ourselves from those vices that prevent us from travelling (spiritually with Jesus and being used by Him), which, contrary to the donkey image pointing to the character of the ministry of Jesus, includes pride, selfishness, and impatience, to mention but a few. Jesus wants to use us to achieve a purpose (of salvation), but this will not happen if we are tied by the cares of life, lack of peace and serenity, and impurity, to name but a few.

Still more, we should, like Jesus, patiently carry the burdens of one another (Heb 13:13). Interestingly, as reported in Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus asked His disciples to untie the tied donkey and the colt beside it. It is unclear whether Jesus rode on the two animals at different moments of his journey towards Jerusalem. The narrator only mentions that the disciples placed their clothes on the two animals. In any case, since the colt is a younger type of donkey, it is not out of place to understand the relationship between the two animals in light of discipleship. Since a donkey is symbol of service, patience, and humility, qualities associated with the ministry of Jesus, it is not out of place to interpret the mentioning of the colt as an invitation to learn from the service-oriented, patience, and humility of Jesus. He reminds us to learn from His gentility and humility to find rest (Mtt 11:28). Like Jesus, we must become burden bearers. “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death” (Phil 3:10).

As we journey with Jesus in this Holy Week, may He free us from every sin that clings so closely and teach us to bear the burdens of one another patiently! Amen!

God loves you!


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