Donkeys and Disciples

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. – John 12:16

So how is this Lent thing working for you? Have you figured out what needs to die so that something new can be born in and through you? Do you have any understanding of what is happening, or do you fear that maybe nothing is?

Not to worry; you are in good company. The Gospel of John tells us that when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was greeted like a king, his disciples had no idea what was going on. Never mind that Jesus had been trying to tell them for, well, ever. Never mind the show of Roman military might marching into town from the other direction. Jesus’ closest friends and followers simply could not connect the dots.

On that glorious, if confusing, Sunday, they couldn’t imagine what Friday, much less the next Sunday, would bring.

Palm-Passion Sunday is a heavy lift. We want to bask in Jesus’ glory but we know what comes next, and the pall of love-sick martyrdom weighs heavily. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is easier to be donkey than disciple, a wild thing that, as the poet Wendell Berry says, does not “tax [its life] with forethought of grief.”

But disciples we are. And the challenge of Lent, the challenge of discipleship, is to follow our savior with both eyes and hearts wide open, to embrace the fullness of every moment, trusting that Jesus’ way of self-giving love will lead even us to wholeness and new life. Eventually.


Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. And blessed are we who follow, even when we don’t understand.

About the Author
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.