The King on a Donkey
On Palm Sunday, we commemorate the occasion when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the crowd shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Prophets had foretold that there would be a son of David who would be a righteous king over his people. God himself told King David, “Your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam.7:16). And Zechariah foretold that this promised king would come to his people riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). The crowd around Jesus had seen the miracles he did, and they thought he might be that promised righteous messianic son of David. So when they saw Jesus headed to Jerusalem on a donkey they cried hosanna to their king.
And you can see why they did. It is a wonderful thing to live in a country governed by a righteous ruler. All those subject to his reign are blessed by living in a community where justice is in power.
But don’t we need a reality check here?
It has been a very long time since anyone from any family was a king of Israel, hasn’t it? And in which country on earth does justice rule? So where then is that divinely promised, ever-
lasting righteous kingship of the Davidic line? What is there, after all, to yell “hosanna” about?
But God’s promise to David is true, even so.
Christ, who is a son of David, is a righteous king; and his kingship is forever. Only, he makes his way into his kingdom riding on a donkey.
Wouldn’t a king want to ride on a horse? On a stallion? A donkey is a ludicrous beast. Why would a king want to ride on a donkey?
But the donkey helps us see the point. This king is riding to the cross. His title to be king is blazoned on a sign at its top. No one needs a stallion for a journey with crucifixion at its end. For this purpose, a donkey is perfectly fine.
And so the divine promises about the Davidic king are true. There is an everlasting kingdom of justice. But it is not of this world, as Christ explains to Pilate. In this world, the king of justice rides on a donkey, and the cross is at the heart of true and righteous kingship.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University