He Needed a Donkey
Aristotle taught that because God is infinite and perfect, He has no need of anything or anyone. Man needs God and strives after union with Him; but, according to Aristotle, God does not need man. He cares nothing for man, whether he sinks or swims. The Hebrew prophets opposed this view. They were not such subtle philosophers as the Greeks, but they knew from personal experience, beyond any doubt, that God was intensely involved in them and their affairs. He was the Good Shepherd who knew His sheep, and followed them in their wanderings with a patience that never failed. He agonized over them when they were disloyal to Him and got themselves into trouble, and rejoiced when they repented and turned back. God cares. A realization of this was the outstanding contribution made by the Hebrews to human thought. Only with such a concept of God’s nature can we understand Calvary, when He acknowledged man’s freedom to oppose and destroy Him; and the Resurrection, when He demonstrated how little His purpose of saving the world could actually be thwarted by man.
“God is love“ we are told in His own holy Word. We all know. something about love, and it has none of the static characteristics which Aristotle attributed to God. Love is outward-looking; it is never self-contained or self-complete. It needs others to whom it can give itself, who will voluntarily receive it. It needs others to cooperate with it in its ceaseless activity. If God is infinite love, He must be infinitely like that. He needs you and me. Aristotle’s idea of God, though it sounds intellectually right, is in fact utterly wrong.
God needs me? That is a staggering thought! Almost overwhelming. Does it overwhelm me with pride? No, rather it overwhelms me with humility and a sense of unworthiness and inadequacy. Yet I know that, however humble my contribution, He needs it for filling out His infinite divine purpose. Think of the little Galilean lad in the lakeside crowd, with his bread and fish – his “sandwich lunch,” as we might say: the Lord had need of him, and used that lunch packet to feed five thousand men together with their women and children. He needed water from the Samaritan woman at Synchar. He needed the widow’s mite. And, in order to ride into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion (“Palm Sunday” we call it) He even needed a donkey! “Go into the village over against you,” He said to two of His disciples, “and you will find an ass’s colt, whereon yet never man sat; loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? ye shall say, Because the Lord hath need of him.” (Luke 19:30, 31)
The Lord’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey was the very climax of His earthly career as Jesus of Nazareth. He was deliberately staging the literal fulfillment of the ancient prophecy of Zechariah: “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon. a colt the foal of an ass” (9:9). He was making a public demonstration that he was the Christ, the long awaited Messiah – “he who should redeem Israel.” He was declaring to all who cared to heed Him, that He was the Savior. Though somewhat cryptic, it was a definite assumption of imperious majesty, and was, in a sense, the peak point of His whole life on earth.
A thousand years previously, another excited crowd had followed a young man riding on a mule in that same valley between the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem. Jesus must have passed over the same stones and up the same steep lane to the Golden Gate of the temple. I am speaking of David’s royal son, Solomon. “And Zadok the priest took a horn of oil and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save King Solomon. And they piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth shook with the sound of them.” (I Kings 1:39, 40). And now, a thousand years later, but in the same place and in the same context, came Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt. “A greater than Solomon was here.”
And this earth-shaking, epoch-making demonstration of the mercy and glory of God depended for its validity upon a young ass. Could not Jesus have made His tremendous assertion without employing such a creature as that? A donkey! “Nature’s walking parody of all four-footed things!” But how excellently that humble creature fulfilled its duty and its destiny! Things might have worked out very differently. An unbroken donkey is usually wild and uncontrollable. I had one given to me in Africa when I was a young man, and, although I could handle a horse tolerably well, this ass kept throwing me until I had to give up, with a broken finger and a dozen black bruises. But nothing like this happened when Jesus rode the “colt whereon yet never man sat.” The people put their cloaks on its back for a saddle and set Jesus thereon, and apparently the little beast submitted peaceably, almost as if it appreciated the significance of the scene in which it was figuring so prominently. And the crowds tore down the leafy branches of the trees and strewed them on the path, while others, milling out from the city to meet them, waved palm fronds and cried, “Hosanna! Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord!”
I should like to have been present on that occasion, to add my voice to the general shout of praise and glorification. Yet why need we wish ourselves back in Biblical times? Today Jesus has come again, glorious above all dreams of glory possible in Roman Jerusalem. As the angels declared in the hearing of Emanuel Swedenborg on June 19, 1770: “The Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be forever and ever.” This was the real thing, of which the Palm Sunday demonstration was but a limited foreshadowing. The New Kingdom, the New Age, is on its way in! And a great number of “asses” like you and me will be needed to carry the King upon our back!
This is God’s world, yet the running of it is largely left to us. The Church is God’s Church, yet the running of it is largely left to us. We are God’s children, and the running of us is largely left to us! God, who is almighty and has all power in heaven and in earth, nevertheless withholds his infinite divine power in certain areas, giving us the responsibility of collaborating with Him, so that we may grow up as His children, and there may be a “Father-Child” relationship between Him and us. We must do our part, as of ourselves, yet knowing it is done from Him and for Him and in His strength.
In what areas are we to assume responsibility, and at what point do we hand over to the Master? Somehow we must find the middle way between the position of the practical atheist who takes the whole world upon his shoulders, and the hyper-religious man caricatured by Swedenborg, who stands with arms hanging limp and jaw open, waiting for the Holy Spirit to flow in. To illustrate how I think things should be, take the case of two commercial travelers. One is traveling on his own account, for his own business. He has full responsibility, because if he fails, everything fails. The other is agent for a large and reputable firm. He is personally responsible for the actual selling; but, beyond the duties assigned to him, he has no responsibility; everything is in the safe hands of his Employer. Don’t you see what a lightening of the load results from the identification of his interests with those of his Employer? But he must make a total commitment of himself to the Firm, and fulfill his own responsibilities to the utmost of his ability within the limited area in which he has them. The donkey’s job, when the Lord had need of him, was just to bear whatever burden was placed upon his back, and pick his way steadily and safely down the steep rocky slope of the Mount of Olives, and up the opposite bank of the Kedron Valley, in through the Golden Gate; nothing less, but nothing more. By doing this well, and leaving everything else to the Master, he was able to participate in the glorious fulfillment of prophecy, and the proclamation of the Messiah.
It is the same with us. The wider issues are not in our hands. They are the concern of the Master, and we can safely leave them to Him. If you find yourself worrying over the future of the world and civilization, or even the church, then you are more foolish than that donkey! How about your own personal future? You must take every reasonable precaution and make every reasonable provision, but beyond that you are not expected to go. People worry, worry as to what might happen in this or that contingency. Can’t they trust their Employer to look after these things – especially considering that He happens to be their Father? Stop worrying over anything that is outside your own area of control. Do what you can do, to the utmost of your ability. No shoddy work there, no half-measures, no shilly-shallying or compromise, no feeble excuses, no shirking the issue. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do” (no matter how great, no matter how small) “do it with thy might.” The Lord is depending on you for just that contribution to His great work of running the universe. He has need of you there. If you evade it … even if it is only giving someone a smile or a kind word, or dropping a resentment or a grudge… if you fail to do what you personally are called upon to do in the scheme of the universe; then, as far as you are concerned, JESUS WILL HAVE TO WALK INTO JERUSALEM. The Messianic prophecy will never be fulfilled, and you will die unredeemed.
The Cripple at the Pool
Our Lord’s question to the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) must have seemed rather heartless and unfeeling. Fancy asking a cripple whether he wants to be made whole! The poor fellow had been in this condition for thirty-eight years. Most of that time, presumably, he had been lying under the porch, waiting in vain for an opportunity to get down first into the pool after the angel had troubled the water. Time and again, time and again, someone else had got in ahead of him, and come out cured, while he remained there in his old condition. His was a tragic case.
Or was it? I detect a note of challenge, even whimsical humor, in Jesus’ question as the man whined out his hard-luck story. “Do you really want to be healed?” Just think, he had been sick for thirty-eight years. Longer than our Lord’s whole life on earth. This man might have already been lying at the pool for five or six years when the Wise Men came from the east! Could he not have taken his turn in the line-up for healing at some time during all that time, if he had been serious? He said he had no one to help him into the water; but who had been feeding him? Someone must have been bringing him his lunch, and even perhaps carrying him to his accustomed corner each morning and removing him again at night – a regular routine. Why didn’t the cripple ask this person to put him in the water at the appropriate time, and thus save all further trouble? No, depend upon it, our friend was a phony, a professional beggar. He had come to terms with his condition. He had settled into a fixed behavior pattern, in which his infirmity was an accepted feature. He didn’t want the responsibility of an active life, but preferred to lie there all day long, watching other people getting healed by the score, but doing nothing about himself.
And I have a horrible feeling that many of us today are like that man. Physically? Yes, we have probably accepted and come to terms with a low condition of bodily health, which could easily be improved if we took ourselves in hand. But even more important is our corrupt spiritual state. In that area, most of us are cripples: maimed, halt, blind. Maybe we are regular church-goers (the five porches represent the church). For how many years have we been sitting passively in a church pew? Has it cured us of any of our spiritual infirmities? Compare yourself now with what you were, say, ten years ago. Has there been any improvement in the area of inner purity? Is your family life any happier? Are you more gentle and kind? – more willing to stand back and give credit to others? How about touchiness? Self-centered pride? Desire to get your own way, to dominate every situation? Worldliness? Unclean imagination? Quarrelsomeness? Bad temper? Oh, we are too complacent and self-satisfied, content to jog along as we are, confessing that we are “miserable sinners,” but doing nothing about it!
At any rate, at least we know that we are sick, and so there is more hope for us than for those who never go to church and who think they have nothing wrong with them. The world today is largely secularized. People live apparently satisfactory lives outside the influence of religion; they feel no need for God, and would not know what you were talking about if you told them they should repent of their sins. They pass back and forth through the market place, with scarcely a glance at the five porches; they feel scornful toward the poor beggars waiting there for the moving of the waters. Yet these worldly wisemen may be desperately in need of healing without realizing it. There are diseases where the patient is starving but feels no hunger; is dangerously in need of sleep but feels no weariness; is astigmatic but believes he alone can see straight; is deaf but indignantly denies it; is lame but thinks he can walk and run; is actually a dead corpse but goes around pretending he is still alive! The world only realizes how sick it is when there is a major war, or a vast business swindle, or a Watergate. Those in the churches do at least acknowledge they are spiritually diseased, they are realists to that extent. They repeat regularly: “There is no health in us.” They line up under the porches by the pool, awaiting healing. But, in all too many cases, nothing seems to happen! Would they be any worse off if they followed the secular drift, and spent their Sundays in bed, or cleaning the car, or playing golf? Frankly, the Church doesn’t have the healing effect on us that it should do. Is it our fault, or the church’s fault, or a bit of both?
Granted that the five porches represent the Church, then the Pool of Bethesda evidently represents the Bible, the Word of God, vibrant with healing power. Many individuals, down through the centuries, have been made,, whole by plunging into those living waters. The process was foreshadowed by Naaman dipping seven times in the River Jordan to be cured of leprosy (II Kings 5:14); and is memorialized by the sacrament of Baptism. But, in my own personal experience in counseling, I do not think many people are healed that way today. Reading the Word is of incalculable help to those who are already converted. But it seems to me that the primary basic healing can best be effected, not by reading a Book, but by an encounter with a Person – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is surely the point of His own rebuke to the Jews later that same day: “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life (and it is true that they bear witness to me) ; yet you refuse to come to ME that you may have life.” (John 5:39, 40) Reading the Scriptures is useless unless it leads us to the Lord.
Jesus, as a Person, is available here and now, with all His healing power. He can cure you without troubling about Scripture readings or the niceties of doctrine, which can come later on. He is standing by you, gazing down with pity, seeing you as you are. He is not deceived by our pretences. Perhaps He is even amused by our frantic efforts to put on a show. He calls our bluff with the simple penetrating question: “Do you want to be healed?” And if He finds that we are able to face up to the reality of the situation, He gives us the equally simple command, “Take up your bed and walk.” He does not have to lift us and plunge us into the pool; there is a more direct way. Hearken to His voice, and lift yourself up in obedience to His commandments, and go forward, and you will be made whole.
According to the language of symbolism or “correspondence,” your bed is your ruling love, where you normally lie. Make a change in your ruling love; elevate it, re-direct it. Start living out the truths you already know (you will find you have plenty to get along with) ; infill them with love to the Lord and the neighbor. Set the machinery in motion to go forward, and you will find you can not only walk but run and dance.
Jesus is here. He will cure you today if you really want Him to. He says to you, Arise! Shake off your shackles, for they are of your own welding. Forget the inadequacies and complacency of the past. Elevate your motives, your inner self, to Him; and set forth running to the temple of God. You will be strong and well; and, after that, every day will be the Sabbath.