Once upon a time, God needed a donkey.
It sounds like the start of an ancient fable, perhaps a story of origins or a long forgotten myth from a time when people believed in talking beasts and warring gods. But in fact, it’s something I’ve believed wholeheartedly for as long as I can remember. It’s just that I never really noticed it.
God needed. And millions of people celebrated and re-enacted that event this weekend.
Neediness isn’t something I tend to associate with the Almighty. Neediness is me phoning 6 times more when my partner doesn’t answer the first time. Neediness is my little siblings walloping me with a story book because I’m trying to finish a grown-up conversation before I read to them. Neediness is this dog.
And yet, two thousand years ago, Jesus sent his followers to fetch him a young donkey, so he could ride into Jerusalem. And if anyone should question them, taking this colt that wasn’t theirs to take? They were to say “the Lord needs it.”
I’d only taken a couple of steps in to church when Elaine (not her real name) approached. “Can I talk to you?” She sat me down.
Not tonight, Lord. I feel bad for praying it, even silently. Do you really need me tonight?
In the few minutes before the service starts, she tells me about her story and she tells me about her pain and she tells me things that make me wince and she tells me things I can’t understand. And I don’t know what to say and I feel out of my depth and I nod and murmur and I think I’m useless really but I offer to pray. And then Elaine is on her knees and I’m asking God to bless her and heal her and give her his peace. And she says amen and I’m exhausted and I haven’t even taken my coat off yet.
Did you really need me, Lord? Couldn’t you have blessed her anyway?
Jesus, God-made-flesh, needs the colt. Can’t he walk into Jerusalem?
Jesus needs that donkey. But at his word, angel-flown chariots could appear.
The Lord needs it.
I sit in a pew alone, job done. Then Elaine appears. Can she sit with me? Shall we go for coffee soon? Will I write down my number? Do you really need me, Lord? You know I’m busy. You know I don’t know what to say. Do you need me?
A king rides in to the royal city. The people throwing their cloaks on the floor, waving branches. A whole crowd shouting, cheering for the one who comes from God. They can tell it’s him – God’s Word had said long ago that his king would come in humility, seated on a young donkey.
The Lord needs the donkey. Because God has chosen to need the donkey.
I’m barely left alone for five minutes during the service. In every way, we’re worshipping together. Her hand hovers gently on my back. Our arms are raised in unison as we sing. Whispering quietly (or not so quietly) about when to go for communion. Together we put coins in the collection. Together we open the Bible. Together we bow our heads to pray.
And I mean it, more than ever. Our Father, Elaine’s God and mine. Our Father, who calls us his children. Our Father, who makes us sisters. And I can tell he’s there, right there, because we’re in the middle of a community busy loving one another. And God’s Word said, long ago, that if we love one another God lives in us.
Oh, I see. This is why you need me. This is why you choose to need me.
It’s not that Jesus was unable get to Jerusalem without that particular donkey to ride. It’s not that God was unable to bless Elaine without my input. In fact, God’s redemptive, healing work in our world is unstoppable, whether we decide to cooperate or not. Just a few verses later, the Pharisees tell Jesus to make the crowd stop shouting out his praises – and he tells them it’s pointless. “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” He doesn’t even need us to worship him. He needs nothing from us.
And yet, God chooses to need me. Because when he does, it’s not just Elaine who gets blessed. It’s me. I am changed because he chooses to need me. And his redemptive work in our world goes hurtling on, gathering speed all the time, picking us up and carrying us along.
So, I’m ready to be untied – ready to be a donkey. A bit like that donkey, I’m not always sure why. I’m not really sure where I’m going. But if anyone asks: “The Lord needs me.”