Donkey

Session Date: 
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Bible Text: 
Numbers 22:22-35

So, fifty words in scripture and the bible significant for our faith and today’s word is Donkey! On our word wall, which asked what you might say to a donkey, someone noted, “Get out of my swamp!” If you know the reference, we’re not talking about that donkey! And we have BBQ for everyone today, not waffles!

So you might ask, what in the wide world of sports am I getting at with the word Donkey? Call someone a donkey, and well, we usually don’t hear it as a compliment!

Donkey just does not seem to flow with other words we have examined or might look at. It seems an unlikely choice for a word of faith to focus upon. It is not what we expect.

But there is this:

In scripture, donkeys are noted as one of the first and most frequently mentioned animals. They were animals of industry and peace.

When Abraham was tasked with the sacrifice of his son, the first thing he did when he got up that morning was to saddle his donkey.

Jacob used 20 donkeys to appease his brother Esau after stealing his birthright.

Then when his sons traveled to Egypt, they took donkeys to purchase grain.

Moses, traveling back into Egypt, entrusted his wife and children on donkeys.

Righteous Abigail fed David’s army using donkeys to carry the food.

While horses were used for war, a king riding on a great warhorse, for example, donkeys were the animal signifying peace. Think of King Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

So Donkeys do belong on our list as we can learn from them, even seeking to embody characteristics of them. They are the embodiment of the Hebrew word hesid, they were “steadfast.” That makes Donkey the perfect word for Rally Day.

In here poetry collection, Prayers from the Ark, poet Carmen Bernos De Gasztold opens our eyes to Donkeys:

The Prayer of the Donkey

O God, who made me

To trudge along the road

Always,

To carry heavy loads

Always,

And to be beaten

Always!

Give me great courage and gentleness.

One day let somebody understand me—

That I may no longer want to weep

Because I can never say what I mean

And they make fun of me.

Let me find a juicy thistle—

And make them give me time to pick it.

And Lord, one day, let me find again

My little brother of the Christmas crib.

How fascinating it really would be to communicate with animals. To hear, as in the poem, or the story of Balaam’s Donkey from such animals. The story in our text today highlights the haughty arrogance of humanity. Consider what animals see in their “ignorance” that we in our “wisdom” are blind to.

Commonly referred to as the story of Balaam’s Ass, it is better titled Balaam is an A**. But as you might imagine, that does a disservice to the animal.

Balaam’s donkey, is doing what he is supposed to be doing, ferrying his master on a journey. One that the Lord seems a bit ambivalent about. The majesty of the Lord is revealed in the Lord using a non-Israelite as a messenger. Then when it is clear that the messenger should not go forward, the Lord uses the donkey to get the point across.

The donkey sees what the messenger of the Lord cannot, an angel with a sword barring the way. Three times donkey tries protect the unseeing Balaam. And three times, Balaam the A@@ clobbers the poor beast of burden.

Then, in one of the great moments of scripture, the donkey, fed up with the injustice of life, blurts out in perfect Hebrew: “Hey, what have I done to you? Why do you keep clobbering me? Have we not worked together long enough that you trust me?”

Balaam is son angry he is not even fazed by his own Mr. Ed. Spittle spraying form his mouth he shouts back, “Because you are mocking me. If I had a sword I would run you through. And with that, Balaam sees the real sword wielding danger that Donkey had saved him from.

There’s the point of the story. It is not just about donkey, but of all God’s beasts. All too often on our travels here and there, like Balaam, we see only what we expect to see. On the other hand, animals, innocent of expectations, see what is before their eyes. No doubt, long before this months’ spate of storms, fires and earthquakes were a speck on the horizon, birds and beasts noted the danger ahead and made off in the other direction.

Consider again scripture’s other famous donkey the one Jesus rode on Palm Sunday. How many “hosanna” shouting folks that day, expected to see the Messiah, the king, riding on a warhorse? How many expected to see the king bearing down for war with the Rome and every other bully oppressor in life?

In modern terms, for many, choosing a donkey was like choosing a delivery truck instead of a fancy sports car! That’s what we expect, with a king, the trappings of power, wealth, success, privilege.

Instead, we get a donkey! And that is the Lord’s blessing. This king is different. That’s what donkeys, Balaam’s and Jesus’ are telling us.  

That’s why Donkey is the perfect Rally Day word. On a day when above all else, we highlight Christian Education, the wisdom of a donkey to see what we don’t expect, points to our need for regular study of scripture and our faith.

When we are not engaged in regular study, we will continue to see what we expect to see. When we take the time to make Sunday school, our weekly study with others in our faith community, we learn to expect what God expects, to see with God’s eyes and not our own.

1600 years ago, Pelagius wrote to a friend on the blessing of animals in God’s creation.

“Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the fish in the river and the sea: God’s spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent. Travel across the ocean to the most distant land, and you will find God’s spirit in the creatures there. Climb up the highest mountain, and you will find God’s spirit among the creatures who live at the summit. When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only that his hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God’s spirit in all living beings is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.”

Sign up for a class today. Increase your investment in your faith. For if we can learn to look with the eyes of donkey, we may just be able to see what God expects, not