Medieval Christianity was weird.
Back in the day, there was a feast day dedicated to the Bible’s donkey-related stories. Celebrated on January 14th and more commonly known as the Feast of the Ass (I renamed it because I didn’t want the SEO hassles, sue me!), its primary focus was on the donkey that carried the Holy Family to Egypt when they were forced to flee Herod.
In many ways this is a liturgical quirk, a bit of interesting history. But this is a world that’s scared of those running for their lives. The image isn’t of a working class family fleeing violence, it’s of terrorists in disguise, of cynical opportunists, a dangerous horde lurking on our borders. Build a wall! Send in the gunboats!
This is helpful or humane. Toxic rhetoric poisons our societies rather than saves them, and the church shouldn’t participate in the hysteria; instead it should promote a more gracious option. And in the midst of all this, a bit of medieval ecclesiology can speak to us across the centuries.
Because that donkey is also a raft in the Mediterranean, is also Harriet Tubman‘s Underground Railroad, it’s Upbeat Communities. It’s Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity and the shelter that helps a woman and her kids leave an abusive relationship. It’s any means of escaping a horrific situation. It’s liberation. And as liberation – spiritual, legal, political – is baked into the Bible and the Gospel, maybe the Feast of the Donkey is a reminder that we can’t be passive in issues of justice. We can’t stand by while people are beaten and raped, executed or ‘disappeared’, while they freeze in doorways and makeshift camps. We’re not called to that.
Because the donkey can also represent Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, thereby heralding a new Kingdom, a Kingdom in which the last are first and the humble are blessed. And if we’re going to wave palm branches as Christ rides that donkey, we better be willing to live in the light of that Kingdom rather than just treat it as a spiritual insurance policy. Because a better world grows in the cracks, and even donkeys are important.