It is said that a Donkey carried Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, therefore they are sometimes referred to as Nativity Donkeys. At the end of Jesus’ life, a Donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. For this reason, they are also called Jerusalem Donkeys.
Presumably, both were Nubian burros, distinctive for the cross across their backs and “shoulders.” In fact, the coloration that causes what looks like a cross is different for each individual animal, and in ancient times they were often identified by their individual crosses.
There is a Christian legend that the Palm Sunday Donkey had known what Jesus was about to go through with his trial and suffering. Foreseeing the tragic event of Jesus’ crucifixion, the donkey wished he could have borne the cross for Jesus, as his kind were the pack animals in ancient Israel that carried such burdens.
The Donkey would not leave Jesus whom he had carried. In his love and loyalty, he wished to stay close. But he turned his back against the sight of the Jesus’ suffering. In reward for the loyal love of the Donkey, Jesus caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and, so the legend goes, the donkey has carried the cross ever since as a sign for all to see — that the love of God carries a reward.
Luke captures Jesus’ invitation to his way as “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Though our tradition’s understandings often associate discipleship with bearing one’s cross, do we ever look for the crosses we bear in life as our blessings, rather than as burdens?
Identify some crosses that you bear (or have borne). Where they of your own choosing? Were they foisted on you?
Can you find a blessing in them? (Not some silver lining wherein they at first seemed to be crosses, but turned out quite the opposite. Instead, can you acknowledge how they were burdens, but how, nonetheless, they brought you closer to the path you are supposed to be on, or… even closer to Jesus.
Extra Credit: Read Psalm 22 at least twice today, with a significant time between each readings. We usually hear this Psalm only on Holy Week. Does it sound different before Christmas? Does it sound different if you think of your own suffering, rather than the Messiah’s?