The man on a donkey

Published on 02 Jul 2020
A crucifix.

I bless you God for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children [1].   

Our faith is in accessible truths, which govern our life.  When we believe in God and conduct ourselves on the basis of that belief then everything is different. All’s smitten through with Him [2].   Divine teaching is revealed to us in something like the way in which children apprehend what is important.  Our coming to know, for example, that God loves us may take some time but it nevertheless occurs with an intuitive simplicity.   Child-like faith straightforwardly acknowledges that the Lord is in charge in our life. That he is our God structures the whole of our life. I will bless your name forever [3].  We acknowledge his authority with all the delight of love.

Have we lost something of this straightforward grasp of the essential?  Should we make ourselves children again in respect of our faith?  It is not desirable to be childish or foolish. There are risks in being naïve or disingenuous. However, we would be relieved to discard the false sophistication, which renders what is most important inaccessible to us.  If our vision of the truth has become distorted, we would gladly put it right.  The grown-up is responsible and busy, but perhaps also distracted from giving proper attention to what is central.  The child looks directly.  Children trust in goodness. They sheer away from the inauthentic.  Not only do we seek carefully to protect such innocence, we also strive to imitate it.  Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [4].

The Lord himself is childlike.  He invites us to imitate him in this.  At the heart of divine childlikeness is the relationship of the Son to the Father.  Jesus is prayerful, watchful, obedient and loving.  Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father [5]. There is nothing irresponsible about the child that is the Son.  The most difficult of missions is entrusted to him. However the mission and the responsibilities of Christ are revelations of the loving kindness of God.  All that is needful is provided for him, including a destiny before which a less trusting son might quake. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all [6].   When Jesus felt abandoned and forsaken [7], he nevertheless directed the expression of that feeling to God, his Father, confident that it would be heard. The Lord is kind and full of compassion…abounding in love [8]. The child rightly does not expect to be left unaided.  In the worst moments, there is a confidence that all will be well.  The Lord supports all who fall [9].

Children share what they have understood, all the time, at their own particular pace.  The Father and the Son communicate eternally in the Spirit. No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son [10].  Jesus invites us to be like him.  We are to live in the divine life, as he does. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you [11].  Childlike and Christ-like we have complete confidence in the Father who gives us everything we need, including all the knowledge and understanding we require.  Like Jesus, we trust the One we obey. God loves us and we love him back with a joyful conformity to his will, which he steadily reveals to us.  This submission to God both comforts us and challenges us.  There is comfort in the closeness to the divine, which is the condition in which we learn what to do. The challenge is to find the courage to take the next step.  Shoulder my yoke and learn from me [12]. The Son shows us how to be children of God.  He does so by accessible precept but also by showing us how to share in the work of his mission to the world.

Even the most loved and secure child can experience sudden fear.  The yoke of Christ sometimes frightens us.  Serious anxieties trouble our child-like faith.  There is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives [13].  Yet the fear of what our discipleship might cost us is powerful.  The Lord coaxes us away from fearfulness by words and example.  The words are: my yoke is easy and my burden light [14].  The example is his taking on himself the whole yoke and burden.  Thanks to his loving self-sacrifice, obedience to the Father is, for us, much less difficult. The Lord has taken on the task.  He is victorious.  He is triumphant [15]. We are glad that he shares the work with us along with life and grace.  We are challenged and intimidated, however, by the child’s contribution asked of us.  Modest as it is, it can seem too much.

Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest [16].  The child needs attention and a chance to gain strength.  Jesus was all the time praying to his Father [17].  He sought communication [18] and accepted encouragement [19].  A question could be put.  My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass me by.  Nevertheless let it be as you not I would have it [20].  With the question there is also obedience.  We are to be like Christ.  There is shame neither in our weariness nor in our anxiety that things might be too much for us.  In our turning to the Lord for help and comfort, we show our trust in his teaching and in the life he patterns: shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [21]. 

Among the accessible truths taught and demonstrated by Jesus is his own humility.  We who are children of God, learning from the Son, arrive at a glad understanding that the Lord is humble.  See now, your king comes to you…humble and riding on a donkey [22].   Christ enters our life not only triumphantly but also with a seeming foolishness.  His steed might be thought ridiculous.  He teaches us by showing us his splendour and his humility all at once.  He is a king who is a child.  The Lord is magnificent but also a little one, who presents himself so humbly as to be almost absurd. Like babies we laugh and learn.  In our being childlike, in our joy and in our acceptance of the truth there is rest for our souls.  We are no longer afraid. The man on a donkey is our good friend.  Weariness is giving place to attentiveness.   Sophistication, which was exhausting us, has been overthrown by straightforwardness.  Our faith is in the mighty God revealed to us by and in the humble Christ. He is victorious.  He is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey.

Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Matthew 11.25
[2]              H. F. M. Prescott  1896-1972 The Man on a Donkey 1952  simple Malle’s vision by the Swale:  ‘All’s smitten
through with Him. Love, frail as smoke, piercing as a needle – near - here.  He that’s light has come into the clod.’
[3]              Psalm (145) 144.2
[4]              Matthew 18.3-4
[5]              Matthew 11.27
[6]              Psalm (145) 144.9
[7]              Matthew 27.47
[8]              Psalm (145) 144.8
[9]              Psalm (145) 144.14
[10]            Matthew 11.27
[11]            Romans 8.11
[12]            Matthew 11.29
[13]            Romans 8.12
[14]            Matthew 11.30
[15]            Zechariah 9.9
[16]            Matthew 11.28
[17]            Matthew 1125
[18]            Luke 3.21
[19]            Luke 3.22
[20]            Matthew 26.39
[21]            Matthew11.29
[22]            Zechariah 9.9