I remember the first time I gave a man a ride on my back. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, the day the stranger came and took me away. When my master’s servant called out, “What are you doing with my master’s donkey?” The man simply replied, “The Lord has need of him,” and kept walking. For some reason, that was enough for the servant.
When we got to where we were going, there was a Man waiting for us. He smiled at the stranger, put his hand on his shoulder as if He was going to say something and then changed His mind, stroking my neck. And His touch was like the warm sunshine, warm and soothing.
The stranger and his friends placed their coats on me so that the Man could ride on me. We began to ride through the streets and there were people assembled alongside the road as if they were expecting a parade. They were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest.”
“Apparently, this man on my back is very important,” I thought, “I must be pretty important as well, to carry such a famous man.”
The people laid down the branches at my feet, making the road before me much more comfortable than the usual dry and dusty road. The longer we went, the more excited the people became, jumping and cheering, clapping and waving.
Finally, we came to the Temple, and He dismounted me. After stroking my nose, He went in. Another of my master’s servants came to me and said, “There you are. How did you get here?” He was further confused by the coats draped across my back. “Strange!” he said as he led me to the Temple stables for food and water.
“Who was that man, I had on my back?” I asked a mare who had been alongside the road and was now being groomed in the Temple stables.
“He is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”
“A prophet!” I thought. Why would a prophet want to ride a lowly donkey like me?
In the days that followed, I remembered what it was like to carry that Man on my back, His gentle smile and touch. I remembered the honor with which the people were greeting Him and felt warm inside that I should be chosen to give Him a ride.
About five days later, I was back home in my stable when I heard a commotion. I went to look out of the window in my stall. Once again, there were people lined up along the side of the road. “I wonder if the Prophet is having another parade?” I thought out loud. My ears perked up hoping He would choose me to ride on again. The oldest donkey in the stable, Old One, came alongside me.
This crowd was different, although I recognized many of the same faces. They were silent and suspicious. Many men had their arms crossed, or watched stroking their beards. Further down the road, I noticed a Man. He looked like the Prophet I had carried, but it couldn’t be Him. This man had been beaten, and had a crown of thorns on His head causing him to bleed. The drops of blood were dripping into His eyes, and He had gashes of open flesh on his back and legs. But the most obvious reason that I knew it must not be Him was that this Man carried a cross, and even I knew that crosses were reserved for criminals.
“Who is that Man?” I said to the Old One.
“That is the same man you gave a ride to five days ago,” he whinnied.
“That can not be! He was a good man. I know He was. I could tell by His touch. He couldn’t be deserving of such treatment! Especially by the same people who were honoring and praising Him just a few days ago.”
“Nevertheless, it is the same Man,” Old One responded.
“He must have done something wrong, for the people to allow this to happen!” I said. I was surprised at the feeling of shame I had for having carried this man. What would people think? I have transported a criminal, a prisoner?
“There are many reasons people will persecute another man. Often times, it has nothing to do with whether they have done something wrong or not. I only know that this Man comes from God.”
The road passed quite close to my stable, and the Prophet (or was He a criminal?) was almost even with my window now. He stumbled and fell under the weight of the heavy cross He carried. A soldier came and kicked Him, as He struggled to His feet. The Prophet looked up at us, and I could swear He gave a slight smile.
I turned my eyes downward, feeling guilty for my previous feeling of doubt.
I stirred up all of my courage and looked out the window again. With great effort, He lifted the cross from the road.
“But Old One, this isn’t fair! He is a good man. These people, how can they change their opinion of someone so quickly?”
Old One stayed silent, and I remembered how quickly I had gone from pride to embarrassment about my associations with Him.
Just then, a little further up the road, a weeping woman came into the Man’s path.
“I once gave this Man and woman a ride,” Old One reflected.
“You did?” I was amazed that he had never mentioned this before, especially in light of the fact, that I had repeated the story of my ride with the Prophet often in the past few days.
“Yes, I gave them a ride many years ago when I was about your age. This woman was great with child. There were no inns with available rooms that day, and she bore the baby, the Prophet, right there in the stable where I was resting from the long ride. This Man is from God. He is special. There were angels in the room and shepherds came to worship Him. He slept in the very manger I had eaten out of earlier that evening. The stars even sang and worshiped celebrating His arrival. This man is not merely a Prophet, but the Son of God.”
“Can’t we do something? Can’t He do something? Isn’t He known for His miracles?”
“I believe He could do something, but chooses not to.”
“Old One, what will happen if the people kill this Son of God? Will the world end?”
“I do not know,” Old One moved away from the window and laid down with a humph.
All morning, I wondered what was happening to this Son of God. Had the people come to their senses? Did they remember that just a few days before they had been worshiping this man? I also remembered how He smiled at me, even with the burden of His cross, even after I had be ashamed for a moment at having given Him a ride.
Later that day, my master decided to go to the Temple. “Let’s take you out for your first ride,” he said. I guess he didn’t know that the Son of God had already taken me out for a ride.
As we rode toward the Temple, the sky began to darken, and the wind began to blow. Just before we arrived at the Temple, the dust around my feet began to swirl, lightening began to flash. I thought back to my conversation with Old One. Was this the end? Did they kill the Prophet, the Son of God? The ground began to quake. The whole earth was shaking. I began to bray as I lost my balance. People everywhere were running and shouting, “This is the end! What is happening?” Priests ran out of the Temple shouting something about the curtain being torn and that we would all surely die. And then, just as quickly as it all started, it was finished. My master got up and dusted himself off. He checked to see if I was okay, petting my neck. He led me into the Temple stables where pandemonium still ruled the day, and went into the Temple to see if his help was needed.
The servants worked hard to calm the animals. They hadn’t had such a stir in quite some time. About a half an hour later, a strong military horse came into the stables. He began to speak about what he had seen that afternoon. He said that his master was a Roman soldier who had been at that afternoon’s crucifixion.
“Jesus, the Prophet was on the center cross, and two thieves were on either side of Him,” he started.
“One of the thieves,” he continued, “cried out sarcastically, ‘Are you not the Christ? Rescue Yourself and us from death!’
But the other soldier answered him, ‘Do you not even fear God? We suffer justly receiving what we deserve, but this Man has done nothing out of the way.’
Then he turned to Jesus and said, ‘Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingly glory!’
And then Jesus answered, ‘Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’
And then the sky began to darken and the wind began to blow. The men on the hill tried not to look nervous or frightened, but their scent betrayed them.
The ground began to shake when Jesus cried out, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!’ That is when my master recognized his part in what had happened. He fell to his knees weeping, and saying, ‘Indeed, without question, this Man was upright!'”
The horse paused here, as if for dramatic effect. “My master gently and tenderly helped take this Man off of the cross and draped him over me. He and another man took His body to a tomb. His blood remains on me this moment.”
Some of the Temple groomers had come into the stalls now. They paid special attention to the military horse, combing and brushing his coat, washing the blood from his sides.
“Some say, this Jesus was the Son of God,” one said.
“I fear He must have been, for Whose death causes heaven and earth to respond in such a way? I heard that it was this horse that carried His body to the tomb. It is His blood on our hands.”
“Did you hear that He forgave the very men who killed Him?”
The rest of the day the Temple stable was silent. My master came out later, quiet and questioning. When we got back to the stable, Old One was waiting for me. After I told him the horse’s story, I said, “Old One, those men didn’t deserve to be forgiven. Some of them were the very same ones who had given Jesus the parade a few days ago. They deserve no forgiveness.”
Old One chuckled a raspy old donkey chuckle, “Perhaps this is why He came. To give man (and your case, donkey) the ability to forgive.”
I remembered Jesus’ eyes when I looked through the window, ashamed at my association with Him. They were eyes of forgiveness. Earlier that day, I had wondered if it was the end of the world, but now I had a feeling it was the beginning of a new world. A world for which God cared enough to send His Son to forgive even the worst betrayal. A world in which man now had an example of forgiveness. It was then that I realized that forgiveness changes everything, because forgiveness had changed me.
Written by kd sullivan Easter 2011