Greek translations aside, the donkey itself is extremely important for two reasons. The first is obvious. Christ came to fulfill the Promises of God the Father (which included reconciling humanity to Himself). Prophets had come and gone, describing to Israel the events surrounding the Savior's coming. Jesus fulfilled every single prophecy made about His arrival. Nothing escaped His Will, even the act of riding into the city on the back of a donkey.
After giving them a brief lesson on the etymology of "ass" and "donkey," I asked them why they thought Jesus might choose to ride into Jerusalem on one. The answers ranged anywhere from "Because He didn't have a horse" to "He was too poor to buy anything else."
I'm surprised no one mentioned He might be afraid of horses... Heh.
Anyway, I had them read that above quote from Zechariah 9:9. After they'd finished reading it, I had them try again. Why might Jesus have chosen a donkey for His grand entrance into Jerusalem?
One of my kids correctly said that Jesus had to do everything that was in the Old Testament because that was "His job." (He totally got a piece of candy for that gem! I love it when they pay attention to these things!)
I affirmed that though he was right, Jesus did come to "fulfill" the Old Testament prophecies. But why, I asked, might God have chosen the donkey in the first place? What did donkeys do?
Another child raised her hand and said, "They carry stuff."
Another chimed in, "Yeah, like blankets and baskets and stuff."
I smiled. They were getting there!
So I said, "Yes! You're on the right track. That's exactly what donkeys did. They still do today. In fact, donkeys are responsible for carrying large amounts of heavy, heavy items because they are so strong. Back in Jesus' time, they didn't have SUVs with huge cargo bays to hold everything. Instead, they led donkeys around with their backs piled high with goods and equipment. They were basically walking "trunks" that carried everything that their human masters didn't want to lug around themselves. So why, then, might Jesus have chosen to ride on one into Jerusalem?"
Since they were still at a loss, I redirected them back to Zechariah and pointed out the word "meek" to them. I then defined "meek" as the ability to endure suffering with humility and patience. A donkey is considered meek because it patiently carries heavy burdens over long distances. Even though the donkey may get tired or sore from such hard labor, he continues on, content to be serving as best it can.
That all being said, I again asked why Jesus might have chosen a donkey. I saw some light bulbs flicker.
A hand shot up. "Jesus is meek! But He's meek as a lamb, not meek as a donkey."
I was surprised by that connection. We had spoken about Jesus as the Pascal Lamb the week before, but I was impressed he remembered the term "meek" and connected it to the donkey.
I explained (since the poor dears were so close but beginning to get flustered by the Socratic questioning):
Yes! Jesus is meek as a lamb because He is The Lamb of God who consented to the Will of His Father, accepting death on the Cross for our salvation. However, Jesus is very much like that donkey - He fully accepted the burden of our sins without complaint, humbly carrying them on His Back in the form of His Passion. He was tired, He was in pain, and He was so sore, yet just like a donkey, He kept carrying our sins (truly the weight of the world) all the way up Calvary.
Jesus chose a donkey because He was, in fact, beginning His own journey. When the people accepted Him as the Promised Savior on Sunday, He understood that this acceptance would be short-lived. The Essenes may have understood Him to be the Son of God, but the Sanhedrin most certainly did not. Pontius Pilate and Caesar most certainly wouldn't have, either. Thus, Jesus understood that He was coming to accept His Passion and Death in atonement for the sins of mankind... the price for our reconciliation with the Father.
It's interesting to note, BTW, that Jesus specifically requested the COLT of a donkey (which is basically a younger donkey who hadn't carried anything yet). This donkey was innocent and pure, much like Christ who never carried sin of His own.
Father Byers (of Holy Souls Hermitage fame) even taught me through his blog that Christ was depicted in the early Church as a crucified donkey! No April Fool's joke, I promise. Read it for yourself here!
What's more, I found an interesting little poem regarding the "cross" that all donkeys seem to have on their backs (their fur just seems to stick out in this pattern). It's similar to the story of Our Lady's blessing of the Tabby Cats at that first Christmas (which can be found here).
Anyway, I shall leave it with you. Enjoy!
was the Master's request.
A young donkey was brought to Jesus
to carry him into Jerusalem.
A week later Jesus was ordered
to be crucified.
The little donkey so loved the Lord
that he wanted to help Him carry the cross.
But, alas, he was pushed away.
The sad little donkey waited to say
goodbye until nearly all had left.
As he turned to leave, the shadow of
the cross fell upon the
back and shoulders of
the little donkey.
And there it has remained,
a tribute to the loyalty
and love of the humblest of