Storytelling, Series A8: Bible tales revisited

  1. The boy whose donkey Jesus rode (Luke 19:30-40)

Let’s imagine we could meet that boy. Maybe his story would go something like this:

Hello everyone! My name is David (you would say “Day-vid”, I say “Dah-veed”); David ben Adam, David-son-of-Adam (Adam being my father’s name).

If I ever visit Weston-super-Mare in the summer I shall especially enjoy going to the beach where they have lots of my favourite animal. Donkeys, of course. The owners keep them in a field across the railway line near the village of Mead Vale. If you live thereabouts you will sometimes catch their shouts of Heehah! on a quiet evening.

[] Back in the day

A long time ago in Israel – in fact, very long ago, nearly 2000 years – I was brought up on a farm near a village just outside of Jerusalem. It was hard work, but fun, in those days when I was a lad. We were not well-off – there were many mouths to feed as I had lots of younger brothers and a little sister. But we ate well – we grew plenty of good food.

Being the oldest I was given many jobs to do – to help feed the animals, mend the fences, milk the goat, and collect the eggs. And I often felt that my younger brothers got spoilt –

one had a pet rabbit;

one a pet kitten;

another a pet hen; and

my sister had a pet lamb whose mother had died.

But as I grew towards my teenage years I really wanted a more grown up sort of pet of my very own – not what I used to call ‘the toy pets for little kids’!

When Bessie our she-ass was about to give birth to a new foal, I begged: ‘Dad, can the new baby foal be mine to look after, to ride to market, and especially to senior school when I go up to the Temple after my Bar Mitzvah, so I can show the city lads I’m not just their ‘”country cousin”.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ Dad replied. ‘I am going to need another donkey to help with the farm work – especially on market days . . .’

‘Yes . . . and I would always let you borrow him back, Dad, whenever you need him.’

‘Hey, hold on!’ said Dad, ‘he – or she – hasn’t been born yet. She might have weak legs, or he might be a bit wild and hard to control. Let’s wait and see in a few weeks’ time.’

It turned out to be a he. Dad let me call him Ben. He had a grey coat with a lovely white diamond at the top of his long sad grey face.

I fell in love with him from Day One.

‘May I have him as my very own, Dad, please? I’ll feed him and brush him down every day. Please, please, please!

‘And I’ll men that broken gate today and collect all the eggs that the hens lay all over the place; I’ll find them while they’re still warm, long before that lose their freshness. Dad, can he be my very, very own? Oh, this is a real pet, not just a rabbit to play with or a kitten to cuddle.’

[] It has to be redeemed

‘It’s not as simple as that, David,’ my dad eventually replied, pushing back his hat and scratching his head thoughtfully. ‘First he has to be redeemed, and later we’ll have to break him in.’

‘What does “redeem” mean?’

‘David, you’ll be late for the synagogue school. The sun is already up. Why don’t you ask Rabbi SImeon, your teacher? It’s part of his job. I’ve got to get off to market.’

So, that day at school, with all us village lads sitting cross-legged on the floor, I asked the teacher:

‘Rabbi Simeon-bar-Yacup, I had a new pet donkey born today. We’ve called him Ben. He’s adorable [big lads don’t say “cute”!] ‘But my dad says he has to be redeemed. What does it mean? Why? When? How? How much? Who? Where? What?’ The questions just poured out of me in my excitement – and my worry!

‘That will be a good lesson for all you boys to learn today. Let me get the scroll of Moses’ Law and read it to you.’

‘Your first boy to be born must be given to the Lord.’ [That’s me, I thought: I’m the firstborn son in our family.] ‘Your first he-donkey to be born may be redeemed by offering a lamb in its place. But if you decide not to do the swop, the donkey must be killed by breaking its neck. Remember, you must redeem every firstborn son.’ (See Leviticus                      )

I was so shocked, I thought I was going to faint and fall over backwards. My mouth felt dry and my voice sounded cracked and squeaky as I gasped: ‘Does that mean that Ben’s neck will be broken by the priest when he calls to inspect our farm animals?’

‘I’m afraid so, David. That’s what the Law of Moses demands here.’

.’Why?’

[] It’s an unclean creature

‘Because, there are two kinds of animals on your farm – the clean and the unclean.’

Which is which?’ I asked in panic. I so wanted to save Ben that I had even for a moment forgotten all these things that I already knew well enough.

‘Well, to put it simply: the kind of animals you can eat as meat, or offer to the Lord in his temple, they are considered to be ‘clean’, such as lamb; sheep stew is called what?’ ‘Mutton.’ Cow’s meat is called what?’ ‘Beef.’ ‘Even wild deer, that gives us what?’ ‘Venison.’ ‘But not donkeys, I’m afraid. But you can swop a lamb for Ben at the Temple. The priest will cook it on God’s altar. That’s how they get dinners for their families; they aren’t farmers like you.’

‘Rabbi, what does “redeem” mean? And what’s that bit about the firstborn son?’

‘It means to buy back and set free. God will let you keep Ben if you offer a lamb to him instead.’

[] We humans also need to be redeemed

‘The tradition goes way back to the beginning of our history as a nation. You remember the story of Moses, Prince of Egypt, who led our forefathers away from a life of slave-rivers paid by Pharaoh. Every family had to kill a lamb for supper, and paint its blood around the doorway of the house. Otherwise the oldest son of the family would be killed by the awesome Angel of Death at midnight of the very first day of Passover.’

‘That’s what the Angel did in every home in Egypt except where the good Lord caused his protection to Pass Over where the blood was painted – which our own people did. Because the Egyptians took no notice, thousands of sons, young and old, died at midnight.

‘The redeemed slaves had been bought back out of slavery, and we all walked away free.’

‘Did I have to be redeemed too as a baby?’

‘Yes. Your father probably only could afford two turtle doves as a sacrifice to the Lord. You had to be redeemed because, as it says in the scroll o Job – ‘Each human being is born like a wild ass’s colt.’

‘I often wonder what Father Abraham meant when he told his son Isaac, “The Lord will provide a lamb for himself for an offering.” I honestly don’t know.’

I thought: I must try to find out one day.

After lessons, I ran home, breaking the Olympic record for the 800 metres, I’m sure!

‘Dad, we must redeem Ben with a lamb. Please buy him back and set him free to be mine.’

Dad looked at me seriously and sighed: ‘I’m only a poor farmer, David. We sell all our lambs each year to buy clothes for you children, as well as farm carts and other stuff. We only ever kept the one that your sister Martha fed with a bottle. She believes Barny belongs to her because he plays with her – her beloved Baa-aarny, as she calls him! Let’s all talk it over at the dinner table this evening.’

‘Well, Martha was weeping, of course – and so was I. We were all a very tearful family that evening. But in the end we all agreed that Ben should be redeemed.

We arranged to do just that very soon at the temple up in the city.

[] It had to be broken in

Ben had been unclean. He as now ‘bought back’ and ‘set free’. The lamb was his redeemer.

Soon I was asking, ‘When can I get to ride Ben, Dad?’

‘Be patient,’ he told me. ‘You remember what I said on the day he was born: there are two problems: first he’s unclean and has to be bought back and set free. But he’s also uncontrolled and needs to be broken in. ‘You can’t just sit on his back straight away. He would kick you off. We will have to train him one step at a time. That will take several weeks.

‘First, he’ll have to get used to having reins on his head and a metal piece across his mouth from one side to the other behind his back teeth called a bit (because it’s just a little piece of iron) with straps attached around his face, and reins joined to them. A little tug towards this side or the other side will tell him which way to turn as we walk him around the paddock.

‘Later we will put a blanket on his back. Later on again, a saddle over that. Then will come the time when he stands still with you on his back.’

Well, this was when the fun started. I got him used to the reins, walked him around the field. Then one day I walked him to my school at the end of the village street, I tied him to the post by the front door and went in to class.

Presently I heard someone outside shouting: ‘Hey you two guys, what are you doing? Leave that donkey alone; it belongs to David ben Adam from Olive Grove Farm.’

I shot out of the school door like an arrow from a bow, and saw two big men untying Ben.

‘He’s mine.’ I shrieked. ‘Leave him alone.’

One of them spoke quite softly and calmed me down. ‘O.K., David. Your dad knows about this. Our Rabbi, Yeshua [or, in English, Jesus] wants to borrow him for a couple of hours – then we’ll bring him back.

[] He would be ridden in the parade!

‘What does he want him for?’

‘To ride in the parade,’ they told me.

‘He’s not been broken in yet. No one has even sat on his back so far.’

‘Listen, David. Ou can come along and see for yourself. But first get your teacher’s permission.’

That was it! Rabbi Simeon said: ‘My life! Class is over for the day. You all can go to the parade. It’s end of term anyway. The Passover holidays are about to start.’

As I went along to the next village, called Bethphage, the two big fellows told me many interesting things about Yeshua. For example: ‘He once calmed down a dangerous storm from our boat right in the very middle of the big lake. He were asleep. We woke him up and he just shouted ’Be quiet!’ and all became as still as a mirror.

‘Another time a madman came running towards us screeching. He had lived in the cemetery naked for years with a thick matted beard, long greasy hair, cuts all over from slashing himself with sharp stones, and chains he had often snapped off his arms and legs. Yeshua just shouted at whatever was bothering the guy to ‘Get Out!’ and he became normal, dressed properly and lived in his house back at home again.’

Oh I was so proud of Ben that day. What a noise all us kids made, cheering Jesus on:

‘Long live the King!

‘Save us, Great One!

‘Bless the Lord!’

Ben plodded along with Yeshua on his back. We threw our coats on the road for Ben to walk on – as we had no red carpet to roll out – and waved branches we’d pulled off palm trees.

Did I have a good life with Ben after that? I was able to ride him home. Then, during the school holidays, I rode into the city to listen to Yeshua and watch the miracles he did to help people.

[] THE Lamb of God – our Passover!

But by the weekend they had nailed him up on a cross till he died. I was so upset as I watched. Then, I remembered a couple of things:

[] One was what the two big fishermen had told me. ‘We started to follow Yeshua because our teacher John first pointed to him and said, “Look! There goes the LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.’

[] The other was my teacher’s puzzle: What did Father Abraham mean? ‘The Lord will provide himself a Lamb.’

He didn’t stay dead for long . . . He’s still alive today and can set us free, and bring things under control that bother us. Thousands in our city believed in him and became his followers. All my family joined Yeshua’s Fellowship.

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