A donkey was, in Jesus' time, much what it is today: a humble, simple, unassuming little animal, used by very ordinary people to do their work. The wealthy and powerful might own horses or a team of oxen and a political leader might ride a stately steed, but none of them would have anything to do with donkeys.
All of his public career, Jesus had resisted when people called him the Messiah. He sternly ordered them to be silent. When they came to carry him off and make him King, he slipped away.
But now he is willing to be proclaimed precisely at the moment when he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Gospel is clear: this is not only a donkey; it is a colt, the foal of an ass, on whom no one had ever previously sat. This is a young, inexperienced, unimpressive donkey. This is the animal upon whom Jesus rides into town in triumph. In other words, this is no ordinary King; this is not the Messiah that they expected.
Now let us look even more closely at the animal. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go into a neighboring town and to find this beast of burden. “If anyone asks, respond, ‘the Master has need of it’” (Matthew 21:3). The humble donkey, pressed into service, is a model of discipleship. Our purpose in life is not to draw attention to ourselves, to have a brilliant career, or to aggrandize our egos. Rather, our purpose is to serve the Master’s need—to cooperate, as he sees fit, with his work.
What was the donkey’s task? He was a “Christopher,” a Christ-bearer. He carried the Lord into Jerusalem, paving the way for the passion and the redemption of the world. Would anyone have particularly noticed him? Probably not, except perhaps to laugh at this ludicrous animal.
The task of every disciple is just the same: to be a “Christopher,” a bearer of Christ to the world. Might we be unnoticed in this? Yes. Might we be laughed at? Of course. But the Master has need of us and so we perform our essential task.