G.K. Chesterton: The Donkey and the King

I will not be posting anything from now until April 21st, so this post will be oriented both towards today’s celebration of Jesus’ victorious entry into Jerusalem, and the glory of Easter itself (but with the emphasis heavily on the former – I don’t want to focus too much on Easter before the event!) In the poem below, G. K. Chesterton takes a look at a central but often overlooked character in the Palm Sunday narrative – namely the donkey that Jesus rode into the city on.

His description of the donkey clashes slightly with the modern tendency to see these animals as exhibiting a strange and unwieldy beauty. I fully understand this, as I myself am an enormous admirer of donkeys – there is something about the dishevelled fuzzy coat and the sadness in their eyes that elicits a mixture of pity, sympathy and genuine affection. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that they are not the most elegant of creatures, and their slightly tumbledown features do bring to mind ‘some moment when the moon was blood’ as Chesterton says.

It is partly this inelegance and partly the donkeys’ lot in life – to tirelessly bear the loads of others – that makes them such a fitting steed for the One who said of Himself ‘I am gentle and lowly of heart’ (Matthew 11:29), and who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8). Chesterton paints such a lowly and pathetic picture of the donkey, that when his ‘moment’ is announced, we both see its connection with the humility of the rider, and we see in this creature a symbol of all the lowly who will also be exalted because of their relationship with and faith in Jesus:

 

When fishes flew and forests walked  

   And figs grew upon thorn,  

Some moment when the moon was blood  

   Then surely I was born.

 

With monstrous head and sickening cry

   And ears like errant wings,  

The devil’s walking parody  

   On all four-footed things.

 

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

   Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,  

   I keep my secret still.

 

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:  

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet.

 

After having been given a description of the donkey that emphasises its unattractiveness, its marginalisation, and the degree to which it is scorned by society, the shout of the crowds and the palms appearing underfoot provide a great sense of emotion and release – it is a profoundly moving denouement. We realise that this donkey, chosen by Our Lord to fulfil the prophecies about Him and to emphasise His preference for the poor, the forgotten and the outcast, represents all such people then and now. By painting such a pitiful picture at the start, Chesterton turns the triumphal entrance into a supreme display of the love of Christ for all those we have derided, passed by and overlooked.

We have a picture here of a King like no other – one who exercises His kingship through humility and love, not power and control. The Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, extending His mercy to all who have been forgotten, and even to those who have sinned against Him – something that He will display supremely on Calvary later on. On that note, I shall end with a small foretaste of Good Friday and Easter, both as a glimmer of the glory we shall all celebrate in a week’s time, and to give us strength during the preceding days where we will meditate on the suffering undergone by Christ out of the depth of His love for us.

Here then are some brief but inspiring words from Saint Gregory Nazianzen, which summarise the profound connection we have with Our Lord – a connection which unites us with Him through His Passion, Cross and Resurrection – and have something of the simplicity and power we find in Holy Scripture itself:

Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him;

yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him;

yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him.

Orationes I, IV.

            Goodbye for now, and I hope everyone reading this has a blessed Holy Week and joyous Easter!

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2 thoughts on “G.K. Chesterton: The Donkey and the King

  1. Goodbye Michael. I wish you too a truly blessed and prayerful Holy Week on the journey towards the joy and glory of Easter.

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