Grand Theft Donkey?

This is Holy Week. And, with its onset, our family is having some interesting discussions at the dinner table. I don't know about your family, but ours likes, or often gets into, religious discussions. So last week with Palm Sunday coming up - it was yesterday - Mike wanted to know if Jesus committed a crime by having his disciples take the donkey from the house of whomever it belonged.

My instant reply was, "Of course not."

And he returned with "Don't you think you're replying that way because of everything you've been taught? Why don't you think for yourself?"

It went downhill from there, but Mike has a tendency to ask questions that I'm sure not many people think about and I like that. As for the boys, Jonathan likes to get into it, but the other two usually remain silent. However, I hope that in their silence they are listening and absorbing what we discuss because they are good times to teach the kids how to give answers to other people outside our family and "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (them) to give the reason for the hope that (they) have ..." I Peter 3:15.

So using some of the discussion for Grand Theft Donkey as my basis, I will show you some of the basic principles that we are trying to teach the kids. We usually don't spell them out but here they are.

1. Read the Bible.

It sounds so simple, but how many times do we defend something we have always believed without actually knowing where, or if, it's found in the Scriptures? These days it's pretty easy to find any verse if you have Google, but for those who don't, or for those who do not want to use the computer, there is usually a concordance in the back of many Bibles.You can also skim through the passages if you have an idea where the verses can be found. The Triumphal Entry is pretty easy to find. Most Bibles have headers so you can just skim through those to find the story. For this question, I checked all four gospels because I knew the story was in all four and because each writer includes different details - amazingly so - about the alleged theft. Observe:

Luke 19: 28 - 35: "After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road."

John 12: 19: "Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written ..."

Matthew 21: 1-3: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” Some footnotes may include that the Lord will send it back right away, or something similar.

Mark 11: 1-3:
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

Mark's account is the clincher. The disciples said they would return the donkey shortly. But why didn't the other gospel writers say this?

Differences of opinion
First of all, we must remember that each gospel writer was a different person with a different personality who was writing with a different audience in mind. Some details may have not been as important to Luke's audience as they were to Mark's, for instance. Also, Luke and Peter (whom many believe was telling his story to Mark) have very different backgrounds, and very different educational levels. All of that comes into play when writing. We must also remember that they were Jewish men living in the first century. We run into trouble if we discern what people did in the Bible with 21st century American eyes because there is a huge difference in our perspective. Mike, as a retired police officer, tends to examine the gospels as he would witness statements. He looks for conflicts and inconsistencies, and questions them. On the other hand, a first century Jew may see these statements as par for the course according to their customs, or it may have something to do with what all the writers have left out - whether or not Jesus made prior arrangements with the owner. We don't know any of this for sure. Some of it is clearly conjecture. All that is truly important to the writers is that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:

"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

I can almost hear what some of you may be thinking. Isn't scripture inspired by God? Yes, it is, but God didn't sit down with the gospel writers and dictate every word they were supposed to write down. The differences in the gospels show this plainly. As Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3: 16 - 17, Scripture is "God-breathed." In other words, it worked for them like it works for us. We sit down to do something and we feel "inspired." We may even feel God directing us either through thoughts or impressions. Ever have that feeling? That's what I think it was like for the Biblical writers because they were people just like we are whom God was using for his purpose.

2. Read commentaries

After reading the scripture, go to the commentaries. There are plenty online from a variety of perspectives or your pastor would probably be glad to let you read from his or hers if you don't have any. Some people may disagree with me saying that scripture alone is sufficient. However, reading the work of people who have studied scripture in the actual languages in which they were written brings a refreshing and sometimes a better perspective to anything we may think of ourselves. I am often amazed by how the Holy Spirit brings my thoughts together after I read the work of another person.

3. Discuss ... But do this with gentleness and respect

There are two issues that most people do not like to discuss: religion and politics. Why? They are like time bombs. People usually get really emotional over these two subjects and before you know it, the conversation explodes leaving bits and pieces of human wreckage everywhere. However, these are two issues that really need to be discussed so the latter part of I Peter 3: 15 - "but do this with gentleness and respect" - is timely and timeless advice for anyone who loves these topics. This is especially true when discussing the scriptures, because if you speak arrogantly it will turn the other person off. By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also give the other participants time to share their feelings. They will be more likely to listen to us and consider what we say. We do this out of love for Jesus and for the other person. Wouldn't you agree? By speaking with gentleness and respect, we also allow room for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the other person.

4. Pray

This is my final suggestion. We cannot hope to understand scripture or to explain it to someone else without connecting to the one who breathed scripture to its writers. We also cannot hope to speak about such an emotional issue without gentleness and respect unless we have spent time with God so that he has time to develop these attributes in our lives.

Have a meaningful Holy Week. I will be back tomorrow.