We have entered Holy Week and in doing so have entered Jerusalem with Jesus. The Triumphal Entry celebrates the kingship of Jesus Christ. His followers recognize that something new is happening. For Jesus it is the beginning of a long, dark week which will end with his death and subsequent resurrection.
For us it is a time to reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus. What did he do, why did it matter, what did it teach us?
Text: John 12: 12-19
Several years ago, there was a television show called Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. The premise of the show was that each episode the host, Mike Rowe, would work with people who did ‘dirty jobs’. Jobs we would classify as messy, difficult, strange and disgusting.
Some sample episodes are:
- Garbage collector
- Sewer inspector
- Hot tar roofer
- Cheese maker
- Diaper cleaner
I’m sure that gives you a sense of what the show was like and about. Each episode would feature some dirty jobs and what was involved in them. I suppose watching the show might validate our career choices. I am also sure that each of us has at one point or another worked a ‘dirty job’. I know I certainly have. I like it so much I did it for four seasons and if you’re curious about it you can ask me at Coffee and Conversation.
Growing up I wanted to be the garbage man, for the sole reason that I could ride on the back of the truck from house to house. I thought that was the coolest thing.
I bring all this up because it seems to me that Jesus is doing a ‘dirty job’ in our gospel reading. It might not seem like it, but if you could choose between a donkey or a horse which one would you ride? I’d pick the horse.
But there he is, riding on the donkey. This doesn’t surprise us, it’s what we expect from our passage on Psalm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and in doing so fulfills the words of scripture. But it seems to me that it is a dirty or a donkey job. Which makes me look back at the ministry of Jesus and when I do that, I realize that Jesus did a lot of dirty or donkey jobs.
Let’s be clear a dirty job or a donkey job, is the job that no one else wants to do. We should also be mindful that many jobs in Canada are ones that Canadians do not want to do. Resulting in a large migrant population that travels to our country to do jobs that pay less than minimum wage.
Let’s look at some of the dirty jobs Jesus got involved with. Jesus healed a lot of people. Jesus also did his ministry at a time when the medicine of the day couldn’t hold a candle to our modern concept of medicine. Those who were ill were shunned and sent to live in ghetto’s on the outskirts of town. They were ritually unclean resulting in them being ostracized from society and God. Jesus went to those places and healed people. He brought compassion and healing into brokenness.
Jesus met a woman at a well. He shouldn’t have been there, it was culturally inappropriate for a man and woman who weren’t married to be alone with a chaperone or other witness. Never mind, that he was a Jew and she a Samaritan. Which is like putting a Toronto Maple Leaf fan and Montreal Canadians fan in a room together. Culturally, the woman should have left. I know that thought is appalling to us now, but then that was the norm. Except Jesus didn’t accept the cultural norm. Instead of requesting the woman leave, he bid her to stay and engaged in a very deep and meaningful theological conversation. Jesus broke down cultural barriers and set a new standard for inclusion.
When invited to a wedding feast Jesus pointed out that we shouldn’t assume the best seat is for ourselves. He pushed the point further by stressing that we shouldn’t be inviting friends, family or people we want to influence. Instead, we should invite the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. In doing so we would be blessed.
Jesus taught to people on a mountain. When he finished teaching and turned to have something to eat. It was pointed out that the 5000 people listening to him didn’t have anything to eat. Rather than chastise them for being ill-prepared, Jesus provided a meal for them. Don’t think that’s a dirty job, come to my place for dinner and see how messy dinner for four can be. Gives you a whole new appreciation for feeding 5000. Remember, they ate fish. Think about that.
What does that mean for us?
When we minister to the ill, the dying. We’re doing a donkey job. When we bring healing, comfort and relief to people who face an uncertain future because of illness it’s a donkey job. Not many want to do it and not many are comfortable with it. However, sitting with a dying individual and their loved ones ranks upon the most privileged and holy experiences I have ever had.
Breaking down the barriers of ethnicity, gender and sexuality is a donkey job. No one wants to do it. It is painful work that requires self reflection on all parts. Admitting and apologizing for past wrongs, but the work of reconciliation is worth while. And let’s be clear that with the Truth and Reconciliation commission we as Presbyterians are at work on the issue of healing past wrongs. Within our wider society issues of ethnicity, gender and sexuality are at the forefront of many discussions. The inability of authorities to label the bomber in Austin, Texas a terrorist speaks to issues of ethnicity and our religious differences.
Feeding the hungry is a donkey job. It isn’t glamorous and no one really wants to talk about how to alleviate the situation of the poor and hungry. The reality is that feeding the hungry is a rewarding job, because those who are fed are thankful. And yet it is the goal of every soup kitchen and every food bank to permanently close their doors. With the hope and prayer that those services would never be needed again. It’s a donkey job and so is advocating for those people. Doing so brings up the ugly reality of how we all live and what we all wasted and how little we are willing to change any of it, because we are comfortable.
Donkey jobs. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what we are called to do.
Make no mistake that God was showing us something new through Jesus Christ. Riding into Jerusalem on a donkey established Jesus as a king for the people of Israel. For us it seems an odd thing. But what John and the other gospels do with this story is establish something new.
The season is Passover. Passover celebrates the Exodus, when the Israelites fled Egypt. Waving branches and a king on a donkey, that’s Hanukkah. That’s what Judas Maccabaeus did in 164 BC after defeating pagan invaders and cleansing temple. What is John telling us in the passage, that the followers of Jesus, indeed Jesus himself, are bringing together two different holidays’, because something new was happening (N.T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2, page 25).
It had been happening all along, this brings it together in a way that the original audience would have appreciated. Some of the finer details are lost on us because culturally we are so far from those times.
What is clear is that Jesus wasn’t above riding on a donkey and doing the donkey or dirty jobs.
I want to share with you now some of the words that were shared with me when I was ordained. This is part of the charge that Rev. Dr. Kristine O’Brien delivered to me. Rev. O’Brien also served as my Theological Field Education supervisor, which spans the second year of studies. She writes,
“While you were at Trafalgar for your theological field education, our congregation was delighted to have you take part in all kinds of activities. You led worship alongside me almost every week, you preached, led Bible study and joined us in community mission programs. But perhaps the most memorable thing you did with us was to take on a role in our Christmas pageant.
“The script called for a variety of characters: …the grumpy shepherd, the frumpy cow, the jumpy angel and the dumpy star and then there was you, the lumpy donkey.” Yes, I played the donkey.
Rev. O’Brien goes on, “Being the lumpy donkey has a great deal to teach you about being in pastoral ministry. The most obvious, of course, is don’t be an … well, don’t be a donkey.”
Jesus, wasn’t a donkey, but he rode in on one. He did all sorts of things that were unexpected and each in their own right, provided a revelation about the kingdom of God and what Jesus was looking for in his followers. Jesus did the donkey jobs.
Go and do likewise. Amen.