Bystanders Day 1: Donkey Owners

By Jaime Sherman

  • Zechariah 9:9
  • Psalm 118:26
  • Matthew 21:1-11
  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Luke 19:28-38
  • John 12:12-17

They are nameless in the four Gospel accounts and easy to miss if you read too fast to get to the crowd’s Palm Sunday “Hosanna!” refrain. But they are there just inside the village of Bethphage east of Jerusalem, quietly helping to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. 

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Listen to Jaime share today’s post.

They were the owners of this sure-footed mama and her floppy-eared colt, the one Jesus mounted to ride the final section of road between Jericho and the capital city on the eve of Passover. While the Gospel writers barely mention them, God knew their identities and had intentionally prepared them to ask a simple question when two strangers started to lead away their pack animals.

 “Why are you untying the colt?”

It was a simple question with words Jesus had prepared his friends to respond to with a password of sorts.

“The Lord has need of it.”

With seemingly no hesitation or additional questions, the owners immediately and generously released the colt and its mama to the men, giving back what their Heavenly Father had given them. In doing so, God gave them an incredible story to pass down to future generations.

We imagine them gathered around the table with their children and grandchildren on the eve of Passover many years later, retelling the story of the miracle-working teacher. This Jesus called Lazarus of neighboring Bethany out of the tomb, and then a few days later, He sent His followers to ask for their colt!

These Easter week bystanders were invited into a powerful story that not only fulfilled prophecy but also sent a message of peace. The mostly-Jewish crowd encircling Jesus was hungry for a rescuer to crush the Roman oppressors, and as He neared the Temple, the crowd paid Jesus kingly homage, laying down coats and the fronds of date palms for a grand pathway. People shouted with one voice the psalmist’s words of adoration and pleas for salvation, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

While His followers expected Him to ride into Jerusalem on a royal stead, a symbol of war, to conquer and to reign, Jesus didn’t choose a hero’s horse but a docile donkey to usher in the final days of His life on earth. These beasts of burden had long been used for delivering leaders to neutral locations to negotiate peaceful treaties, as pack animals for the Roman army, and for working the fields outside Jerusalem. No leader vanquishing an enemy would think to overthrow a capital city atop a young, unbroken colt with its braying mama trailing close behind. But this leader Jesus chose a young male donkey to climb upon for His ride into the city, and He chose the one belonging to the nameless, the bystanders inside Bethphage.

As you think about this story, consider what the Lord might be preparing you to give back to Him today or this season of your life.

For additional narratives in our Bystanders series, click here.