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Considering donkeys

Editorial note: David Grafton views the world from a different perspective than most others in the ELCA. His vantage point is Cairo, Egypt, where he serves as coordinator of graduate studies at the Evangelical Theological Seminary. Here is what this missionary sees when he reads the Gospel for Palm Sunday:

“They brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting” (Matthew 21:7-9).


The donkey moved along the pavement slowly, bowing under the weight. The garment over his body to protect his rough and tired hide was threadbare. He moved forward along the street with a forlorn but steady pace, as if oblivious to the crowds on either side.

The noise of the crowds was deafening. There were people on the side of the road—young and old alike. Some were standing, others moving about on their own errands in the city.

And the street, the street was littered not only with branches from the palms but rubbish and garbage from the normal daily activity of Cairo ....

The young boy whipped the donkey once more as it struggled to pull the cart filled with garbage along the chaotic street. This young garbage picker had finished his morning rounds of collecting trash in the city. He was on his way home so his family could sort through the rubbish by hand—to recycle what they could, provide scraps of food for their animals and take the rest out to the dumps outside the city. As the donkey cart struggled along, taxis and trucks screeched by, their horns blaring. They swerved around him causing the donkey to twitch nervously. The crowds, attempting to cross the hectic street, only centimeters away from being hit by a speeding car, were oblivious to the boy and his donkey—and their garbage.

Cairo is a place of crowds. Everywhere you go there are crowds. The World Health Organization states that the population of Egypt increases 1.9 million people every year—most of them in Cairo. In such a bustling cement jungle most people, especially the poor, go about their lives with little hope of a different future. The bedlam of life moves on about them with little notice or care.

I’ve often wondered if Jesus were to enter into this city how would his “triumphal entry” look? This Palm Sunday as we celebrate with pomp and circumstance, and wave freshly cut palm leaves from the florist, I wonder if Jesus would not enter into the lives of the people of Cairo in a garbage cart, making his way amid the noise and chaos of the crowds, unnoticed by most—pulling the refuse of the world behind him.


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