With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now– for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, the disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well. Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom. The donkey knows. He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as our meaningless symbols of honor. He is servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on. Of blessings and praise turning to curses. Of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.