Photo by Felix Mittermeier: Pexels


Sunday, March 24
Mk 11:1-10


Here we are today at the gates of Jerusalem almost at the end of the Lenten journey, which ends on Thursday with the Easter triduum. Jesus does not tell us today when the kingdom of God will arrive, but he reveals how it will arrive: the King will arrive on a donkey. How wonderful it is to see that God chooses the simplest of creatures to communicate his message to us. All he asks of each of us to do is to untie a donkey…. that’s all he needs! What does this donkey represent? And what is the humble service each one of us can perform to bring our brothers, sisters and the planet towards happiness? Today we see how the King enters Jerusalem.

Jesus does not tell us when he is actually coming. However, by showing us the ‘how’ (which  leaves us shocked and upsets our preconceptions about God), He teaches us something very important: whenever we let this King in, we can say that the kingdom of God is among us. It is up to us to welcome the kingdom of God. A prophecy is fulfilled here; it begins on the first of the six days that Jesus spends in Jerusalem. It’s a time of new creation. The prophecy is fulfilled through the figure of the donkey. It is the only time in all of Mark’s gospel where it says, “go … and you will find,” and a few words later we read, “they went and found.” What does this mean for our everyday lives? The fact that a prophecy is already fulfilled indicates to us that this is a prophecy of what always happens. In this way, when we manage to focus our gaze on contemplation, we will be able to see the kingdom of God.

Our problem is that we almost always expect the King to arrive on horseback, in chariots, with special effects or with tanks and we feel disappointment to see Him arrive on a mere donkey. We always expect so much more from God. We still struggle so much to watch Him getting baptized silently on the Jordan River or standing in line with wounded humanity. He is a God who serves while we continue to expect a dominating and judging God.

We find ourselves near “Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,” at the gates of Jerusalem, two places that have a definite meaning which links us to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor and both places of purification before entering the city. Bètfage, in Aramaic בית פגי, literally means the “house of barren figs,” and refers to God’s people not producing fruit. Before the fig tree this Lent we experience God’s mercy. The Mount of Olives is to the east, towards the Beautiful Gate and through which the Messiah was later to pass in triumph as He entered Jerusalem. The cleansing takes place as we move towards the holy city despite our limitations, the cry of the Earth and the poor, in the barrenness of our actions and the fragility of the planet, in this very place where we can meet the King. He enters our barrenness and poverty, and despite our limitations, through His cross He is able to give us dignity.

On this mission, Jesus “sent two of his disciples,“. We do not know which ones, but we know for sure that the sending is always plural. There is a consistency in sending his disciples two by two, “to the village opposite“. Just as one does not know which disciples, one does not know for sure to which village they were sent. It may seem strange, because the scene is clearly set in the village of Bètfage and the Mount of Olives, but perhaps the ‘village opposite’ tells us that we are always looking towards a ‘mission land’, a place to which we are sent by God. Then comes the prophecy: “you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat,” a donkey that has been living a vocation of humble service, a sign of meekness since the time of Zechariah’s prophecy. It seems almost offensive to find a donkey used as an image of God, it might seem almost as blasphemous and as disappointing as the image of the hen evoked in the lament of Jerusalem. Not a noble eagle soaring in the sky, but a hen, when he said, “How often have I wanted to gather your children like a hen her brood under her wings and you would not!” Not a strong horse pulling war chariots, but a humble donkey taking on all the sins of the world.

The colt, the protagonist of this story, has two characteristics and can be found every day in the village in front of us. First of all, he is tethered. He is not free. Who knows how long he had been tied up, while God’s Creation wants us all to be free. Sin binds creatures and our fear is the mirror of our distance from God so that even if nearby (this village is “in front”) there’s always a distance that has to be crossed. This distance is the bind that makes us afraid. Here is the command: untie this colt. To release within us the  image of God who comes to serve, an image that we find in our everyday life, in our village in front. Each of us, in the image and likeness of God, has within us this vocation to serve, even though we may be a little ashamed of it, not wanting to get on this donkey.

“If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, “The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.” The only time Jesus calls himself “Master” in the entire gospel is in this scene. He tells us that He is Master because He needs to. What does he need? To untie love, service. To untie humility, smallness. The great dignity of obedience. While there is “the Master” who needs it, there are “the masters” who own it. Finally, the two disciples lead the colt to Jesus. Who knows what happened with the exchange of looks between the colt and Jesus.! We are all familiar with the sweet look of a donkey, so obedient and  helpful. We associate it with the images of our grandparents, of hard work in the fields, not arousing negative feelings in us. I can just imagine the sweetness of that exchange of glances!

Entrance to Jerusalem, Giotto di Bondone, 1303-1305, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

They put their cloaks on this colt, a sign in the Torah of essentiality, even of life and death. Everyone had to have a cloak for the night (even if only on loan and it had to be returned later) because one risked freezing to death in his sleep. It’s as if all our certainties must be entrusted to this little donkey, a docile sign of God’s service and love. Jesus sits on these cloaks and so the donkey is the throne of the King, through which He enters Jerusalem. Coming down from the Mount of Olives, Creation as always with its ascents and descents marks our daily life and the places of our prayer and dialogue with God. Here, many in the crowd, praised Him. We almost seem to hear the original “Laudato Si” sung by a crowd,—now they are all disciples—and we have a powerful feeling of  great success. Untethered love brings with it great cheering crowds.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” is the song of praise of the promised land, the final song of the exodus. Here is the peace of heaven, the peace of all Creation, when by unleashing God’s humble love we can quench the thirst of the Earth for Him! The Earth needs humble love, and in fact Jesus is not ashamed of this “Hosanna,” he welcomes the acclamation and this messianic entry into Jerusalem. Many of us would be shocked by this because we are still too attached to the idea of a powerful God, a God on horseback, a God of justice.

In numerous passages in Franciscan sources, there are many references to humility (perhaps the most beloved ‘bride’ of St. Francis) which reminds us that: “Blessed is the servant, who does not consider himself better, when he is praised and exalted by men, than when considered vile, simple and despicable, since what man is worth before God, so much he is worth and no more. Woe to that religious, who is placed on high by others and does not want to descend by his will. And blessed is that servant, who is not placed high by his will, and always desires to place himself under the feet of others” (FF 169). Let us thank the Lord for the gift of his humility, from which we can learn how to be an authentic gift to our brothers and sisters. Let us pray that this Holy Week, which starts today, will reveal the humble face of God’s love to us and help us live it every day. 

Have a lovely Palm Sunday and a fruitful Holy Week as we move toward the Lord’s Easter.

Laudato Si’!