A Palm Sunday Story

Most of us probably know the story of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on the first Palm Sunday. But there must be an awful lot that's missed out from the story in the Bible. For instance, whose donkey was it, and what did they think? And for that matter, what did the donkey think? Well, here's a story of how it might have happened.

It's a story about a little girl called Miriam. Miriam was about 7 or 8 and lived at home with her Mum. But she was very sad, because a few months earlier, her Dad had fallen ill. Then he'd got worse… And then he'd got worse still... And then he'd died. So now there was just Miriam, her Mum, and their donkey.

The donkey was called Benjamin, and Miriam loved him nearly as much as she'd loved her Dad. If you close your eyes, perhaps you can see Miriam and Benjamin in your imagination, outside their house. It's hot, and the road is dusty and stony, and Benjamin smells a bit, but nobody minds. Miriam has got long black hair and big dark eyes, and she puts her arms around Benjamin's neck, and he rests his chin on her shoulder, or rubs his ear on the side of her head. And she tells him all her secrets, and all her private thoughts, and all the things that frighten her. Like what if her Mum died as well? And what if someone stole Benjamin? Then, sometimes she thinks of her Dad and cries into Benjamin's mane.

(You can open your eyes now if you like.) One day, Miriam had been talking to Benjamin for quite a while and it was starting to get hot, so she told him she was just going indoors to get a drink of water, and she'd be back in a minute with some for him too. But when she returned, she stopped in horror; two men were untying Benjamin’s rope! "Hey, stop!", she screamed. "You can't do that, that's my donkey!" The two men looked at each other, slightly bewildered, then one spoke up and said "Err.. the Lord needs him", and the other added "And, err… he'll send him back directly". Just then, Benjamin threw his head in the air and gave a loud "ee-or", and Miriam was sure he was trying to say "Let's go! They seem kind men, and the air smells good today". Then Miriam found herself saying "Well, I suppose that's alright. But only if I can come too!" "Of course you can" they replied. "Go and tell your Mum you won't be long, and we'll set off."

So off they went, up the hill and out of the village. As they walked, the two men talked to Miriam, and laughed and joked, and told her about their friend Jesus, who loved children, and told wonderful stories about rich men and poor men, about wise men and foolish men, about things that got lost, about sheep that got lost, about people that got lost, about buried treasure, and fields, and trees, and seeds, and weeds … in fact about almost everything you could imagine. Suddenly, Miriam realised she was feeling better than she had done since her Dad had died. 

Soon, they came to the top of the hill, and there they found a little crowd of people, excitedly chatting and laughing together. A man came out from the crowd to meet them. He had kind eyes and he said to Miriam, "Thank you for lending me your donkey. You see, I need him to ride into Jerusalem." Then, a funny thought came to her, and she looked up at him and said slowly "I think you'd look better on a horse", and then added excitedly "Hey, I know a man who's got a camel! He's a bit posh, but I'm sure he'd lend it to you if I asked him really nicely." "That's ever so kind of you", Jesus replied, "but I specially wanted a donkey. In fact, I specially wanted your donkey. Will you lead him for me?" And he rubbed Benjamin's ears, and Benjamin's sad eyes looked happy.

So they started out down the hill, Jesus riding on the donkey, and all the people singing and shouting, and throwing palm branches on the road in front for them to walk over. Jesus was smiling, but somehow Miriam thought there was a sad look in his eyes. On they went until they came to a bend in the road, where you could see the whole of Jerusalem laid out before you – a mass of roofs, and streets, and little market squares, and curling wisps of smoke from chimneys, and in the middle, the imposing shape of the Temple. Miriam loved this view, because she knew her Dad had loved it too. But just as the whole city came into view, Benjamin suddenly stopped. Miriam turned round to see why, and found that he was hanging his head, as though he was about to cry. Then she looked up at Jesus, and saw tears streaming down His face. He looked out across the city and said "O Jerusalem, how I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you wouldn't let me!" Miriam reached up and put her arms around his middle and put her head in his lap, and cried out "I would have let you! Does that make it better?" "Of course it does!" he replied, and he put his hand on her shoulders and bent down and kissed the top of her head, just like her Dad used to. Then he sat up and said "Come, we've got a way to go yet!" 

They set off again, but now without quite so much singing and shouting. That is, until they came to the city gate when suddenly, people seemed to appear from everywhere, singing "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Jesus was smiling but Miriam could still see that sad look in his eyes. Benjamin was holding his head low and going more slowly now, as if he didn't really want to bring Jesus there. They made their way through the narrow streets until they came to the Temple gates, the crowd still singing and shouting. Then, looking to one side, Miriam saw a group of important-looking men looking across to Jesus and muttering to one another in a nasty kind of way, and she felt her blood run cold. Then she looked at the faces of some of the people who'd come with them into the city, and she realised they didn't have kind eyes like Jesus. In fact, it was as though they had been singing the right song, but to the wrong tune. Jesus got down from the donkey and turned to Miriam and said "Thank you for lending me your donkey". And he gave her a hug. "Will you be alright?" she asked, nervously looking round at the crowds. "Yes, I'll be alright" he answered. "Go home and weep a little more for your Dad. I've got some more weeping to do as well. Then next week, remember me and talk to me in your heart, just like you talk to Benjamin, and you will have a joy that no one can take away."

So she walked home with Benjamin, talking to him all the way about all the things they'd seen and heard, and puzzling over it all. When they got home, she tied him up and looked into his eyes and said "What did it all mean?" And Benjamin held his head up and looked back at her, and seemed to say "It's quite simple – even a donkey can understand. It just means we have to trust Jesus, and follow him".

Each day that week, Miriam talked to Benjamin, and cried a bit. Then on Friday, the sky turned black, and she cried some more. In fact, it seemed as if Benjamin was crying too. Then she found she had no more tears. On Saturday, all seemed quiet and peaceful, and she sat with her Mum who told her yet again the story she loved best, of how Moses had led their forefathers out of slavery in Egypt. And that night, Miriam had a dream. And in her dream she saw Jesus and her Dad walking up a long staircase towards a bright light, chatting and laughing together. And as they got higher and higher, and further and further away, so the light got brighter, until, try as she would, she could see them no more. Then she slowly opened her eyes, and saw the sun streaming in the window onto her face. And although she still missed her Dad very very much, she felt happy again, because she knew that Jesus would never be far away from her.

ęPhilip Le Riche, 2007

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