Monday, March 31, 2008

"Ass" requested...

“Ass” is not a flattering word. Rather, it’s quite insulting. You generally don’t mean any type of compliment when you refer to someone as an ass. Let’s face it: the donkey got the raw deal when it comes to our lexicon. The poor thing gets equated to humanity’s backside. It could be a synonymous term for witty or good-looking; but, alas, it is not. The donkey is not the hero of the animal kingdom…

There’s an incredibly interesting bit of story in Numbers 22. I’ll admit that I’m a little perplexed by verses 18-22 (if you care enough to go read them), but pushing that aside, I like where the donkey starts talking. That’s right. Just like the serpent in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, this animal starts speaking. (Literally? I dunno.) But it’s amazing to me that Balaam isn’t really freaked out by his donkey speaking to him. In fact, he never misses a beat and dialogues with him. How odd.

There’s a million things to discuss about the text. (For instance, the donkey could have saved itself three beatings if it would have started talking in verse 23.) But here, I only wanna point out that God used an ass to get the attention of a prophet. An ass. Speaking. That’s what it took to get Balaam on the same page as God. How odd.

Then you’ve got Jesus, proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, the one the world has been waiting on, riding into town on a donkey. See, people were waving palm branches as a sign of victory. The Jews picked it up from the Romans who gave palm branches to winners of the games and victors of military conquests. They saw Jesus as their King—he was their hope of freedom from Roman oppression. He was their victor. Only, they got it wrong. He wasn’t THAT kind of king.

You would think that the people would pick up on the fact he wasn’t riding a gleaming white stallion into Jerusalem that day. Jesus came to town humbly, non-violently—not the perfect picture of a king. Jesus was riding a borrowed donkey. Dude didn’t even have his own donkey to ride and they thought he was the political liberator of an entire race of people? Seems like we aren’t the only sincere people who can miss the point. Jesus rode a donkey into town that day. A stubborn, lowly donkey. How odd.

I like how this story is in every Gospel of the New Testament (Matt 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12). This is a big deal, for so many reasons. But what I find so curious is the donkey. He’s such an important part of the story, but he’s barely mentioned beyond the disciples’ instructions on how to ascertain him. He’s instrumental to what happens, but he stays outta the way of the bigger picture: he just brings Jesus to town. How odd.

Two things I’d like to point out:

The first comes from the infamous 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'."

I heard Eli in concert one night. He screwed up a song twice, but before starting it over for the third time, he proceeded to apologize for what drugs had done to his brain by telling jokes. Eli then said: “See kids, God can use anybody.” I don’t find it necessary to have the proper title. I don’t find it necessary to have the right degrees. I don’t find it necessary to have the most expensive education. I don’t find it necessary to own a suit. I don’t find it necessary for one to be able to deliver a thirty-minute “sermon” with three points that all start with the same letter. I don’t find it necessary for one to have eliminated smoking, cussing, drinking and gambling from their life. The only thing I find necessary is the willingness to follow the way of Jesus—be you an ass or not.

The second point is this: the donkey brought Jesus to town but stayed outta the way. He didn’t make a big deal about himself. He wasn’t the important part of the story as far as the world was concerned. I struggle with vanity in my own life. Wanting to be the center of attention. Wanting approval for the things I do. Wanting approval for who I am. There’s a time and place for all that. But in this life I chose, to follow Jesus, the importance isn’t placed on me. Like that donkey, I’m supposed to bring Jesus to town and stay outta the way. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about a church. This isn’t about religion. This is about redeeming a world. This is about everything changing for everybody. This is about love. I think we can really get caught up in ourselves: making everything about us and forgetting about the big picture. Forgetting about a whole world out there that we only see bits and pieces of on the news. Forgetting about a whole section of town simply because its “across the tracks.” Forgetting about a call to “Go…”

I know I am an ass.
I pray I get better at it…


Saintdoc said...

People in the church are so worried about who is running the church they often forget who powers it. Good article!

Sheffield said...

I never thought i'd see the words donkey and lexicon in the same sentence.

Anonymous said...

i love the donkey pic.

johnperry said...

I agree, you are an ass. You're strong, sturdy, and smell like shit.