Hip deep in the mud and s**t!...some thoughts on Mark 11:1-11
It seems fitting to tell this story on April Fool’s day. The joke was certianly on these disciples. I am sure that their expectations of serving and following Jesus were quite different when compared with the realities they had faced and were now facing.
Mark spends over half his story of Jesus’ entry into the city occupied with mundane details about acquiring the donkey. Where to go to find it? What kind of colt to seek? What to do? What to say? And though we do not know what these two disciples were thinking, I am fairly confident that they had imagined for themselves a grander and nobler role on this day than being on donkey detail.
Throughout their time with Jesus the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory, arguing about who was the greatest. So there is a real sense of irony in that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when he will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas, these two find themselves engaged in a most unromantic form of ministry, mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves, and trying to wrestle an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves. For this they left their fishing nets and families?
It is a perfect example of one of those thousands of routine and inglorious details of church work that are necessary but not the 'real action'. How often I remember my own grand and glorious visions of my pastoral 'career'. Now after 30+ years I have seen how that ministry of serving people with energy, imagination and love often boils down to stuff like printing bulletins, arranging chairs, throwing out the trash, changing light bulbs in the restrooms, visiting people in nursing homes who aren’t quite sure who you are, sitting through meetings in which you try to get a sense of where people are at and how you can lead them to a better place. It is listening to the pain and suffering and lost hopes of lives and families. It is being the receptor for their anger with God or the institutional church or the world in general. It is being gracious and biting your tongue until it bleeds because they need to be heard and not spoken to.
"Follow me," led these disciples into a ministry of handling the gritty details of everyday life. So too, the routine, often exhausting, seemingly mundane donkey-fetching details of our service are gathered into Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. "Preparing the way of the Lord" is speaking a quiet word in a committee meeting, spending time with someone who is suffering from extreme dementia, emptying the garbage and writing those word for a sermon that breaks your own heart or speaks from your pain. I like the picture one author used. Discipleship...following Jesus...it's like standing hip-deep in the mud and shit of some stable trying to corral a donkey for Jesus.