A donkey, not a warhorse

The scriptures I wrote this column on (in the March 17, 2014 issue of “Mennonite World Review”) are Zechariah 9:9 and Matthew 21:1-11.

Zechariah offers good news for a people at war. Their deliverer has come! His feet have trod on the necks of his enemies, therefore his followers can rest in the knowledge that their world has been set right. God’s anointed one is for them, and he is victorious! God is on their side!

In ancient times, a king who rode a donkey was a king who came in peace. A king who rode a donkey had exchanged his war-horse for a beast of burden.

But when Jesus claimed this imagery, it was before, not after, a battle of great importance. He wasn’t interested in fighting battles (at least not physical ones). He was interested in re-interpreting what would have been a familiar narrative of Messianic salvation.

He did come riding on a donkey, not a war-horse.

But that’s not exactly comforting to a people who were still oppressed by Roman occupation. I can imagine they would have preferred Zechariah’s version.

There are times I would, too.

But the truth of the matter is, enemies are destroyed more completely through the saving power of sacrificial love than through the exercise of brute force. This is a truth that’s become so familiar to most of us, that we lose track of it’s subversive nature. Jesus was victorious on his way to the cross!

It’s more than mere symbolism, that he’s going to be a different kind of King with a different kind of Kingdom. It’s a declaration that the battle is over, and he has won.

It’s subversive, it’s radical, I know. The victorious Jesus stretches and frays the delicate fabric of our social and religious etiquette to the tearing point…but it seems that the message Jesus sends is clear.

The battle is over, and he is the victor.

Yet we continue to thrash about as we seek to reconcile the fullness of this grace, the fullness of God’s love, with the broken reality we inhabit.

Something insidious happens when we entrust Jesus with our hopes and dreams for a better world. More often than not, we find our expectations crushed. We send in our Hero Jesus, we load him with our hopes and dreams, our expectations for a better world, we load him like a beast of burden and send him into the fray, only to watch him get flogged, humiliated, and finally crucified.

We know that resurrection follows.

We know that new life springs up from death. We know Easter comes next…but that doesn’t make the bearing of the crucifixion any easier.

We’re still surprised when life doesn’t work out according to our plan. We still mourn when dreams are shattered. We still wince and turn away when our Hero chooses the cross instead of the battle, and we still lose hope when it seems like he’s not even willing to put up a fight.

The bitter truth is, we love our agenda for a better world more than we trust the way of the cross. It’s a jagged pill to swallow, that resurrection only comes through death and relinquishment.

It’s not natural. It’s not easy. It’s troubling to come to the realization that God’s ways are not our ways, that the discipleship we are so fond of talking about does not lead directly to happy endings.

We follow a Messiah whose path does lead to Resurrection. That’s our hope.

However, His path first confronts our expectations. Then crucifies them. Then it leaves us hopeless, scared, and panting for breath in the darkness before finally revealing the resurrected Christ in the face and in the place we least expect to find Him.

Where are you looking for Christ?

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