As we enter Holy Week, we begin to hear the stories we repeat, year after year. I don’t know how it is for you, but for me, these stories never get old. They are the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection that are at the heart of our faith.
It is also true, that every time I read these stories, and depending on which gospel tells them, it seems like a different part of each story jumps out at me. Something catches my attention. And I truly enjoy contemplating whatever small detail catches my gaze.
What caught my attention for Palm Sunday this year is Jesus borrowing a colt. Even though I could spend this entire preaching time discussing why the animal requested by Jesus isn’t consistently listed as a donkey in each gospel, that’s not what interests me. What’s caught my eye, is that only in Mark’s gospel (Mark 1:1-11), and nowhere else, does Jesus tell his friends to simply go and take a colt, and if they are confronted by anyone who asks what they are doing, they are to respond by saying that the Lord needs this animal, but he will return it immediately.
That’s the part that piqued my interest. Jesus promising he will return this colt immediately. In no other telling of this story is Jesus so clear that he intends for this animal to be returned right away after he’s used it.
Today, Jesus will enter the great city of Jerusalem. He will be cheered by people who would love to believe that Jesus is the one who will save all to God’s people from Roman oppression. These hopeful folks take to the streets, filled with excitement, ripping branches off from area trees and throwing down their jackets before Jesus as he rides on this colt, as though it’s a parade. We know this story so well we can see all the action unfold in our imagination. The crowd hollers that they believe Jesus is the promised one who comes in the name of the Lord! He’s the one they’ve all been waiting for! They shout, “Hosanna! Save us!”
Yet, Jesus is riding on a colt that is borrowed. Jesus is riding on this BORROWED little animal, intentionally creating a stark contrast to a real king who would normally enter a city astride a great stallion. Yet, here is Jesus, on this borrowed colt. And of this colt, Jesus promises that he “will send it back immediately” when he’s done with this ride today. Jesus was a borrower. And this is the detail I’ve meditated upon this week.
According to all the accounts of Jesus’ life in the gospels, Jesus doesn’t ever own anything, as far as we know. The robe he wore and the sandals on his feet seem to be his only belongings.
The borrowing of this colt got me thinking of all the other times Jesus borrows something throughout his life. I made a little list with the help of a few suggestions I found written by someone else. So, consider with me some of these items “borrowed” by Jesus:
- He was born in a borrowed stable while his parents were travelling as there wasn’t even a room for them to rent in the inn.
- During his adult ministry, while teaching, Jesus at least once, borrowed a boat when the crowds pushed in on him. He stepped into the boat and asked the owner to push it off from the shore while he taught.
- Jesus borrows a boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 people.
- Jesus borrows an upper room to eat Passover and his last supper with his friends.
- Even the cross Jesus dies on, was initially intended for another man named Barabbas.
- And the tomb Jesus’ body is placed in after he dies, is one that Joseph of Arimathea offers as one that isn’t being used by his family.
Borrowed. All of it. (some items on this list from “The Best Things Are Borrowed”, Rev William Carter, April 1, 2012, Day1.org)
Jesus was a borrower. He never held on tightly to anything – even to those things that belonged to him. He shared freely from his very self – with us. All that God gave him, Jesus gave to us.
The early church found the most beautiful and meaningful words to describe Jesus himself when he reached the ultimate time of giving his entire life over for our sake. The Bible passage is one appropriated for the start of Holy Week. In the passage from Philippians, chapter 2, it is written of Jesus, that, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Jesus emptied himself. He gave away himself completely. There was nothing else to give.
Yet God had a purpose when all was given away! Jesus emptied himself through death —- in order to gather us all to himself. We are those who now belong to Jesus. We aren’t borrowed. In Jesus, our lives are forever claimed to belong to the love of God. How extraordinary!
As those who now belong to Jesus, maybe we can go back to that image of the colt, and consider our own borrowing habits, in the light of what Jesus has done for us. I’m not talking about financial or material borrowing here. But perhaps during this Holy Week, the idea of returning the colt could be a metaphor for our personal reflections.
First, what do you need to return this week? What do you need to release or let go of? We all have stuff that we’ve carried around with us for far too long. What’s the baggage that you carry that continues to weigh you down? Is it a grudge? Or resentment? Anger? Fear? Regret? Guilt? Maybe you need to return being in control. Or having to be right. Or the need for approval. Perfectionism. We all have our stuff. Maybe Holy Week is the time to return and release it all to God, trusting that God can do something with this stuff —- when we were never able to.
And what if returning and releasing this stuff is also about being returned to ourselves? What if it’s about returning to the newly transformed people Jesus makes us to be through his cross and resurrection? God has his son Jesus empty himself, so that we’d be loved and forgiven by God into belonging to God in a new way.
So, what parts of this new life, this new way, would you like to return to? What if, because of what Jesus has done for you, you returned to joy, or hope, or truth, or honesty? What if you came back to justice, mercy, or forgiveness? What if you reclaimed seeing dignity and holiness in each person you encounter? What if you became recentered in peace and courage? What if you returned to love of neighbor, self, and enemy? (inspiration for this paragraph comes from “Returning the Colt”, Rev. Michael Marsh, March 26, 2018, interruptingthesilence.com)
Think on these things. Borrowing. Returning. Contemplate this image of Jesus returning the colt and take that image with you this week. After borrowing it, returning the colt is how Holy Week begins.
And being returned to God and ourselves by Jesus Christ – is the promise of how this week will end!
Thanks be to God. Amen.