The one who carries them” Reflection for Palm Sunday
Call it Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday! Either way, the ass that appears to our imagination in the Bethlehem stable is given some respectability walking in Jerusalem amid cheering fans.
Which reminds me of the ass, placed centre stage, in the painting by Orazio Gentileschi, peering over the wall at the exhausted family on their flight into Egypt with Joseph stretched out on the ground and the baby suckling. It’s as if the artist is saying ‘don’t forget about the one who carries them’.
In Jerusalem, this ‘beast of burden’ reminds us that Jesus is also a kind of ‘beast of burden’ on whose back will be laden the life-denying heaviness of sin – betrayal by Judas (preface to many a betrayal), rejection by Peter, abandonment by those he counted on, the hand-washing of Pilate – ‘it’s not my problem; those refugees don’t belong here anyway!’ He goes to his death as one whom nobody is prepared to stand up for. ‘They came for the Jews but I was not a Jew so I did nothing’.
By contrast, in Jesus’ suffering we see our own greatness; in his trust in the Father’s love for him, in his acceptance and dignity, in his loyalty to friends and his spontaneous forgiveness of their weakness.
To a Father who notices the fall of a sparrow, the ass is more than ‘a dumb beast’. For the Father, too, suffers, in some way, with all of creation, including the animals we lord it over, oblivious of how they are often mistreated in food production from birth-pen to abattoir.
The donkey is part of the Palm Sunday story and chosen to accompany Jesus who ‘emptied himself’ to assume his place among us; who by dying and rising raises all creation in thanksgiving to the Creator, refreshed and whole again, its goodness intact, our standing as a son or daughter assured.