IVP - Strangely Dim - King of the Mashup

October 7, 2008

King of the Mashup

Today's donkey tale comes just in time for Yom Kippur, as it has to do with two other major Jewish holidays--not to mention atonement.

Jesus found a little donkey and sat on it. As the Bible says,

Do not fear, daughter Zion!
Look! Your king is coming now;
Sitting on a donkey's colt. (John 12:14-15, quoting Zechariah 9:9, translated by N. T. Wright)

On the week of the Passover, the celebration of the Jews' deliverance from slavery in Egypt through the culmination of the plagues and the sacrifice of the firstborn, Jesus entered Jerusalem--but not before he sent ahead for a donkey that he could ride in on. If anyone asked why his messengers were taking a donkey, he told them to say, "The Lord needs it."

Why does Jesus, a lifelong walker, suddenly need a donkey? Dorothy Sayers imagines a prior conversation between Jesus and the Zealots. They want him to join them, to lead them in the overthrow of Roman oppressors. They give him a signal to alert them to his decision: hitched together are a horse and a donkey; if he chooses to fight, the horse is his, but if he chooses otherwise, he is to take the donkey. Jesus chooses not to fight.

It's compelling drama, this imagined apocryphal interchange, but it's not the only horse in this theoretical race. N. T. Wright, in his John for Everyone commentary, suggests that Jesus rode a donkey, accompanied by followers waving palm branches, as a symbolic reminder of the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabaeus, which was celebrated by waving palm branches while entering Jerusalem and culminated in "Judas and his family [becoming] kings of Israel." In other words, Jesus is celebrating Hanukkah.

But Hanukkah is usually mashed up with Christmas, not with Easter. Easter--the story being told here--is mashed up with Passover, the celebration of God's (not the king's) deliverance of Israel from Egypt. That's what Jesus was trotting into atop this donkey. Is Jesus guilty of mixing metaphors?

Let this be a lesson to you, boys and girls: rules can be broken, but only once you've mastered the rules. Jesus is bringing together Hanukkah and Passover as a third reminder to his people: God--no mere man--is the true king of Israel. The Maccabean deliverance was led by mere men and didn't take, and the Jewish kingship had suffered a gradual hollowing out by the long line of people whom Rome had graciously allowed to occupy the throne. The deliverance that took, that dealt firmly and finally with Israel's oppressors, came from God and God alone, and everything--not just the powers that be--was changed as a result.

Jesus accomplishes this great mashup of imagery by riding a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah goes on in his messianic prophecy:

He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. (Zechariah 9:10-11)

Jesus' reminder of the blood covenant is still coming, mere days away, and will bring into this matrix of metaphors the third great Jewish holiday: Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. But for now he rides a donkey, proclaiming peace, and the people lay down branches before him, shouting "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 7, 2008 6:44 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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