by Aaron Alford
It can be frustrating to be yourself. Exhausting even. Especially if you’re me. I try my best to live with integrity, with purpose and with humility, but half the time I fail. (And yes, saying “half the time” is being generous.) I fail, and I feel unworthy and lost and ashamed. I’m stubborn and stupid and sometimes it seems like I’ll never get my S-H-High Tea together. In short, I feel like an ass. Can you relate to this feeling?
I don’t like being an ass, but I’m coming to terms with being an ass. Not that I want to remain an ass, but I’m learning that, thank God, being an ass doesn’t exclude me from God’s Kingdom. In fact, his Kingdom is full of dumb asses. And sometimes God can use a dumb ass to bring Jesus into the world. There’s a story of just such an ass in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus sought out a young colt (the foal of an ass):
…“Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away, and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; and they untied it. And those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said; and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and threw their garments on it; and he sat upon it. And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” -Mark 11:2-10 (RSV)
It’s interesting to look at that account from the Gospel of Mark. Mark is usually the most succinct of the gospel storytellers (he charges like a race horse through his gospel account, telling his story in just sixteen chapters), but here he spends an unusual amount of time on a seemingly small incident that preceded the famous ‘Triumphal Entry’. It’s not just that the disciples obtained the colt (the foal of an ass) in an unusual way, possibly a kind of holy thievery even, but that Mark feels the need to spend so much time on the process. In other places where Jesus commands his disciples to do something, the gospel writers will simply state that they went and did it, but here Mark more or less repeats the whole thing. It’s almost like the dumb little ass is the star of the show!
So let’s look at this colt (the foal of an ass) for a minute. He’s still young, and he’s tied with a rope. He’s not in a stall, he’s simply tied up alone in the open street, possibly neglected and uncared for. In fact, he’s never even been sat upon. Asses are pretty much good for one thing in the context of the ancient world: carrying people or carrying stuff, and this one has never been used for either. Maybe he was considered too young, or too small, or too stubborn. Whatever the reasons, he’s standing there, useless. There he remains until a couple of disciples of Jesus show up, free him of his bonds, and bring him to the Lord. It’s there and then that, for the first time in his young life, the dumb little ass is used for his intended purpose: to carry Jesus.
There’s another significant story in the Bible about a dumb ass being used by God. It’s the story of Balaam (and his donkey, who was, literally, not so dumb):
So Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the ass, and his two servants were with him. And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. -Numbers 22:21-31 (RSV)
My favourite quote about this story comes from one of my favourite artists, Rich Mullins:
“I had a professor one time… He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway’.”
It is a noble thing indeed to be used by God, but, thankfully, it requires no nobility on our part. It’s the One we carry and the One we speak of who is noble. When we try to speak in the strength of our own eloquent words, we usually end up sounding like a braying jackass. When we shut up and let God speak through us, well, we can still sound like an ass, but at least by God’s grace people will understand us.
When that colt (the foal of an ass) went riding into the city, carrying Jesus himself, no one was looking at the little donkey. Their shouts of honour and praise were not for the dumb little beast of burden. But I bet when the disciples threw their cloaks on the ass’s back, he must have felt a certain glow of dignity, a humbling sort of pride, for carrying this Most Excellent passenger. The little colt (the foal of an ass) had never before been used for his intended purpose, and now here he was, carrying the King of Kings.
So it is with us. We find our purpose and our dignity when we are what we are meant to be: beasts of burden, carrying Jesus, being a servant.
So don’t worry about being an ass. Jesus knows what you are, and he loves you anyway. He knows you’re stubborn. He knows you’re kind of ugly. He knows what you sound like when you try to speak for yourself. But he’s chosen you. He sent his disciples to you to set you free of the ropes that bound you. He brought you to himself, and he clothed you with dignity. His burden is light, and it is his great pleasure to use an ass like you to carry him into the world.
Rich Mullins talks about asses:
What you sound like when you think you’re being eloquent:
Much of this post was inspired by/plagiarized from a blog entry I happened to stumble on here, quoting a sermon by Fabio Rosini: http://oursundaygospel.blogspot.com/2015/03/march-29-th-2015.html