Humble Heroics

Humble Heroics

Pentecost 13 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Matthew 21:1-11 August 27, 2023


Good morning, class!

It’s Week 5 of our six-week sermon series on “Smart Lessons from Biblical Animals”!

And so today we’re looking at the story of Palm Sunday ... and ... no surprise here ... the donkey in the Palm Sunday story.

Now ... before we get going ... I have to confess two things:

One ... it’s just been a couple of weeks since I preached about a sermon about a different donkey ... the donkey in the story of the prophet Balaam and ol’ King Balak ...

And ... in so doing ... I squandered all of my best ‘donkey’ material ... and ...

Two ... it was just four or five months ago now that I preached a sermon on this same text ... the Palm Sunday story ... and even focused on the figure of the donkey!! ...

And ... in so doing ... I squandered all of my best material about the first part of Matthew 21.

Which is a round-about way of saying that I’m scrambling this morning ... so cut me a bit of slack!

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Anyhow ... this morning’s lesson ... from the Gospel according to Matthew ... IS the story of that day we call ‘Palm Sunday’ ... right???

It’s that day we remember that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was met by a cheering crowd ...

A crowd that ... amid their excitement ... cut branches from nearby trees to lay on the road is front of him.

Now ... since our northern European presumption was ... and perhaps still is ... that most of the trees in Mediterranean climates are palm trees ..

We’ve taken to calling the day “Palm Sunday” ... even though there’s actually no mention of palm trees in particular anywhere in it!

But ... honestly ... it would probably be better if they’d taken to calling that day “Donkey Sunday” rather than “Palm Sunday” all those many years ago ...

Because ... at least to the gospel writers’ telling of that story ... the donkey has more to do with the meaning and the message of that day than tree branches or palm branches do.

But we don’t call it ‘Donkey Sunday’ because ... well ... because ... donkeys have such a bad reputation.

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Seriously ... folks ... think for just a minute about donkeys and horses ...

• Which of those two animals do you affiliate with being obstinate?
A donkey or a horse?
A donkey.

• And which of those two animals do you affiliate with being stupid?
A donkey or a horse?
A donkey.

• And which of those two animals do you affiliate with being cantankerous?
A donkey or a horse?
A donkey.

• And which of those two animals do you affiliate with being dirty?
A donkey or a horse?
A donkey.

In fact ... we think so little of donkeys and their abilities that we actually a whole rather un-flattering body part after them!

And even don’t get me going on the word ‘asinine’!

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But ... seriously ... who is the one character in this story from whom we might have a positive takeaway?


Sure ... they’re all hyped up for this grand entrance ... but by this time Friday ...

• One will betray him ...
• Another will deny him ...
• And the rest will have made themselves awfully scarce.

They are certainly examples ... but they are NOT examples about how to get it right.

Those disciples may we describe who we ARE ... but not who we ought aspire to be.


Actually ... they’re even worse than the disciples:

• Curious ... but not committed.
• Intrigued ... but not involved.
• Excitable ... but not accountable.

They may know the truth ... but they can’t bring themselves to DO and STAND for the Truth.

The folks in the crowd are like college students who get A’s in a class on ethics ... and then turn around and flunk the ethics of life.

And don’t even think about suggesting the RELIGIOUS LEADERS or the SADDUCEES or the PHARISEES or the ROMANS.

No ... the only character that gets it RIGHT in this story ... really in the whole of the story ... besides Jesus ..... is this here donkey!

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So what exactly is it that we might learn from this donkey? What is her message for us here today??

Honestly ... more than at first glance you might think.

Take ... for instance ... this donkey’s reputation.

I mean ... she’s a donkey ... after all.

And you already confirmed that donkeys are stupid and stubborn and cantankerous and dirty ... even though that reputation is almost entirely undeserved.

Seriously ... folks ... OUR identification of certain human personality traits with donkeys is completely out-of-step with the historical record!

• Prior to the domestication of camels ... the ancient Egyptians built their whole international trade network around donkeys ... precisely because donkeys were hard-working and didn’t complain.

• And the old Silk Road trade network between China and the Middle East was originally a donkey-powered operation ... because donkeys were understood to be reliable and dependable.

• In fact ... at the end of the Revolutionary War ... the King of Spain gifted a pair of donkeys to George Washington ... one of which Washington later described as his proudest possession on the whole of his Mount Vernon plantation!

Which is a round-about way of saying that this Palm Sunday / Donkey Sunday donkey didn’t let other peoples’ opinions of her determine and dictate who and what she was!

And neither should we let other peoples’ presumptions of us define and dictate who we might be!

There’s no such thing as the wrong age or the wrong gender or the wrong race or the wrong socioeconomic group or the wrong anything else in God’s eyes ... even if there is in the eyes of the world!

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Then again ... this donkey was ... here’s an under-rated word ... ‘cooperative’.

• Jesus asks a couple of his disciples to go into the village and find this donkey ...

• And explains that ... if anybody asks ... that they should just say that “the Lord has need of it” ...

• And when they do what Jesus has asked ... they don’t get any push back from the donkey.

Now I know ... a lot of us have mental pictures ... maybe from watching cartoons of Yosemite Sam and the like ... of donkeys digging their heels in and not wanting to go ... while the one trying to get them to go is tugging in their lead with all their might ...

But this donkey ... at least ... GOES ... cooperates ... does what is asked.

Then again ...

• She's also an evangelist ... in that she literally brings the Good News into the Holy City ...

• She's a servant ... in that she carries a burden and doesn't put up a fuss in so doing ...

• She's focused ... she doesn't get distracted by all the noise going on around her ...

• She's obedient ... in that she's takes her cues from Jesus ... and maybe above all ...

• She's the literal embodiment of the spirit of humility ... which is that singular virtue which is probably closer to the heart of biblical Christianity that any other virtue of which we might speak.

Are you beginning to see why ... just maybe ... we should be calling in ‘Donkey Sunday’ rather than ‘Palm Sunday’?

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Any of you remember how ... back in the day ... everyone drove around with bumper stickers on their car?

You know ... something advertising:

• Wall Drug ... or
• The Winchester Mystery House ... or maybe
• I Found It ... or something like that.

Everybody seemed to have their own personal favorite ... right?

So mine ... the one that adorned the bumper of my 1968 Chrysler new Yorker ... was one I acquired at the International Pack Burro Racing Championships in Fairplay, Colorado.

That announced “Get Your ... insert another name for donkey ... Up the Pass”.

It was testimony to the fact that pack-burro racing was ... and still is ... a thing.

And it was testimony that donkeys can actually do some pretty amazing things.

And it was testimony to the fact that donkeys ... even donkeys carrying burdens ... can be champions!

But no donkey was more of a champion that this Palm Sunday / Donkey Sunday donkey.

The one whose very presence begs of us a series of questions:

• Can we ... like this donkey ... be faithful servants who carry burdens without putting up a fuss?

• Can we ... like this donkey ... be of service without caring who gets the glory?

• Can we follow Jesus’ directions ... and be willing to go where he wants to go ... rather than insisting the he go where we want?

• Can we not get distracted from our callings by all the crowds and the noise and the chaos of the day?

• Can we bear this one who is God’s love into places that are unfamiliar and/or downright unfriendly?

• Can we be humbly attend to the needs of the One who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth?

Think about these things!

“Humble Heroics” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of August 27, 2023 — the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.  The text upon which it was/is based is Matthew 21:1-11 (the story of the Palm Sunday donkey) and it was/is the 5th installment of our Summer sermon series on Smart Messages from Some Biblical Animals.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20230827