When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately. (Matthew 21:1-4)
When I was a kid reading these verses, I thought maybe Jesus had some sort of magical power. He sent the disciples into town to get the donkeys — mother and child — so he could ride one into town. He didn’t give them a name. He just said, “When you get to town you’ll see the donkeys. Take them. If someone stops you, tell them I need them” and they’ll let you walk off with them. I figured their words cast some sort of Twilight Zone trance that let the disciples take the animals without any struggle. It made for an imaginative scene, but it didn’t ring true.
Where I finally came down on the scene is Jesus had friends the disciples didn’t know. Jesus hung out with more people than make an appearance in the gospels. Whoever owned the donkeys knew full well Jesus would send for them. It was not magic; it was prearranged. Jesus didn’t ad lib his ride into Jerusalem. He planned it. He meant it. And he knew the folks who could help make it happen, and many of them were people other than the disciples who got all the press.
I don’t know that my understanding of Jesus’ life beyond the gospels has any giant theological implications, but it does make me read the stories differently. Truth is we don’t have many details about Jesus. We know about his birth, when he was twelve, and then his early thirties; the rest is unexplored back story. There is more to Jesus than we have been led to believe. There are layers of the stories — even the ones we know well — that remain unexplored or at least unnoticed. We don’t know the whole story.
Listen close. Look in the cracks. Fill in the blanks. Go find the donkeys.