Consider the donkey
Neil Smalley, 11th April 2022
The donkey is surely among the most ill served of creatures. He hangs his head in a diffident, self-depreciating manner, as though his mind is on something, somewhere else, or perhaps just alone. Being small, meek, mild mannered, he is designated a beast of burden throughout the world, throughout history. He is derided for his sad clown face, with its white ringed eyes. His ears would appear to be designed for a creature three times his size. Think of the proportions of a horse’s ears. And the donkey’s mane seems to be made of old boot brushes. No flowing plume for a tail – just a knotted rope’s end. And as if all this wasn’t enough ill favour for him to bare, there is the voice- the harsh, painful and anguished sounding cry - the bray.
The horse has a melodious voice, and that throaty,’ harrumph’ he does by way of ‘hello’ is quite engaging. What does the donkey get? A voice that seems to come through sandpaper and rusty iron, a voice which is uttered through pain.
The amazing thing is, though, that after the unfortunate donkey had all this opprobrium heaped upon him, on the two occasions when God wanted someone to bear his precious son, where did he turn?
When Joseph was spending his days lifting the heavily pregnant Mary in and out of the saddle, on the journey to Bethlehem, it was understandable to use a donkey. For a horse, Joseph would have needed a mounting block with standing space for two on top. So no horse, then. A camel would have served. The camel sits and stands on command, and the longer legs and longer stride would have made for a much more comfortable ride, in fact the camel is a much more regal, imposing creature.
Then, for the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, wouldn’t a big white stallion, with flowing mane and tail, and full ‘feathered’ fetlocks have presented an altogether more impressive image? Something like Napoleon on his rearing Marengo, in the famous painting, all majesty and heroism.
No. Pomp and circumstance were not the order of the day. The message was one of self-effacing humility. No fanfares, no rallying of rebellion, nor call to arms or show of force. Just a donkey, with coat and palm trim. And even while the children were waving their palms and throwing their coats under the donkey’s pretty little hooves, the Pharisees were already muttering ‘crucify’ under their breath, because this was the plan, remember, and not man’s but God’s.
I wonder, if the donkey could have spoken to us, say, ten days later, what would the donkey have said?
Theologians tell us that dumb creatures have no soul, so cannot enter heaven. Well that is their opinion; they can keep it and I’ll keep mine. I’m sure when it comes time for me to approach the fabled Pearly Gates, I could do it in much less revered company than that of a donkey. If the donkey were not admitted, I think I would need to sit on the grass verge for quite some time before I could steel myself to send him off back down the track, but it won’t happen that way, I’m sure. I know, in my heart, that if I did happen to arrive in company with a donkey, I would be glad of the distraction. I wouldn’t be riding him, rather his coat-tails, so to speak.