19 Mar. Mark 11:1-7

19 Mar. Jesus borrows a colt from Bethany rent-a-donkey

"As Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives..."

"Jesus sent two of his followers and said to them, 'Go to the town you can see there [on the road ahead of us]. When you enter it, you will quickly find a colt tied, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here to me'."

"If anyone asks you why you are doing this, tell him its Master needs the colt, and he [the owner] will send it at once."

"The followers went into the town, found a colt tied in the street near the door of a house, and untied it. Some people were standing there and asked, 'What are you doing? Why are you untying that colt?' The followers of Jesus answered the way Jesus told them to answer, and the people let them take the colt."

"They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it."

          (Mark 11:1-7)



The Bible gives us a fascinating account of Jesus's final journey to Jerusalem - which was written for people who lived a short time after the events recorded.

Mark's gospel was probably written as early as 62AD (a little over thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus). (You can find more information about who wrote the gospels @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/…/1-…/who-wrote-the-gospels/.)

Many details are omitted from Mark's account because people would have known and understood the background to the story. But we aren't familiar with the background details, and, as a result, we often invent things that are incorrect!

We imagine that the two disciples untied a colt without the owner's permission so that Jesus could ride into Jerusalem on what we now call 'Palm Sunday'. But we don't think more carefully about the (unstated) background to this story.

Firstly, we don't realise that Jesus (with his followers) was probably staying in Bethany with his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus (see Mark 11:11 & John 12:1) when this event occurred. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a Sunday morning, so he probably stayed with his friends in Bethany during the Sabbath day (Friday evening to Saturday evening) when all 'work' (including riding a donkey down the hill into Jerusalem) was forbidden. It looks like he borrowed the donkey from Bethphage, the small settlement adjacent to Bethany, at the top of the hill on the road down to Jerusalem.

Secondly, we forget that Jesus was well known to all the residents of Bethany and neighbouring Bethphage. He often stayed here with his friends when he was visiting Jerusalem, and only recently he had gained fame in these small towns by raising his friend Lazarus from death (see John 11:17-44). He also had other followers who lived here in Bethany, including Simon (see Mark 14:3). The two disciples would have only needed to mention Jesus's name, and anyone in Bethany or Bethphage would have immediately known who had asked to borrow the colt.

Thirdly, we don't realise that it was quite normal practice to hire a donkey from Bethany or Bethphage when visiting Jerusalem. When we visited the Greek island of Santorini, we hired two donkeys to carry us up the steep path from the port to the centre of Thira. Bethany was only half an hour's walk from Jerusalem, but it was at the top of a steep hill.

Anyone living in Bethany who wanted to visit the markets in Jerusalem would be able to hire a donkey to carry his heavy goods back up the hill to Bethany. Donkeys were used as pack animals in Jesus's day (only the very wealthy could afford to ride on a donkey, and Jesus always walked!). So hiring a donkey to carry your goods was the 1st century equivalent of phoning for a taxi to carry your weekly shopping back from the local supermarket.

Adding these three things together, it's hardly surprising that the owner of a donkey-hire business in Bethany or Bethphage would be quite happy to let Jesus use one of his donkeys. (The presence of a young colt tethered outside his door implies he owned several donkeys - including the parents of the young colt).

Only the owner of a successful donkey-hire business would have been wealthy enough to own several donkeys! He would have known Jesus - the local celebrity - and would have been happy to lend him his 'latest model', the young colt that had never been hired before!

The photo shows where the road from Bethany and Bethphage (just over the brow of the hill) descended the steep slope of the Mount of Olives (at the top of the photo) to the floor of the Kidron Valley. The photo was taken from the ancient steps leading up from the Kidron Valley into the old city of Jerusalem.

You can see the location of Bethany and Bethphage and their proximity to Jerusalem on the map accompanying yesterday's Bible passage @ The Bible Journey | 18 Mar. Luke 19:1-10

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