One of my favorite apocryphal stories about Jesus goes like this: Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph are fleeing the wrath of King Herod heading for Egypt. They are all riding on the back of a donkey. Joseph becomes impatient with the slow progress of the beast, and he begins to dig his heels into the animal. This doesn’t do any good, so he resorts to whipping the plodding donkey saying, “You stupid, good for nothing donkey! Don’t you know that you are carrying the Christ-child? Don’t you realize that Herod is out to slay the child? Don’t you know that you must hurry or he will catch us?” Just then the Lord gives the donkey the gift of speech. The donkey stops, turns his head to look up at the irate Joseph, and says, “Imagine that; God has put the whole future of His Church upon the back of a jackass like me!”
Isn’t that how you feel at times? God has put if not the whole future of His Church on your back then at least your church. There is so much to do and all of it’s important. Yet you feel so weak. Like Jeremiah you say, “”Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Like Luther you are certain that if the Lord leaves His Church in your hands you will surely bring it down around you.
The Good News is that the Lord didn’t leave His Church or your church in your hands and He is well aware how young or old are. The Good News is that while the Lord calls men to be stewards of His Mysteries, He never relinquishes ownership of them. They remain His minas even though He has ascended into a far county to receive a kingdom.
The trouble is that while you know it, I know it, and while Jeremiah and Luther knew it too, some, perhaps many, around us do not. There are those around us – in our church, district, synod, and maybe even family – who are like Joseph; they dig into us with their heels (and some have spikes!) and lash us with their tongues, telling us all the things we are not and reminding us of all the expectations we fail to meet. They make us feel like the whole future of Christianity rests on what we do or don’t do. The Church stands or falls on our next sermon, on our Bible Class attendance, on our membership numbers. Who can minister at all let alone joyfully with such “Josephs” on our backs?
This brings me to the second jackass. Luther told the story of a donkey in the forest braying loudly. (If you have never heard one before, it truly is a startling sound.) All of the animals fled from this monstrous sounding beast. They all end up together wondering what kind of a beast makes such a frightening sound. Finally a lion crept back into the woods to get to the bottom of things. He made his way back toward the terrible sound. He slowly peeked into the clearing and saw that it was a donkey braying. At seeing this sight, he steps into the clearing and says, “If I had known you were just a jackass, I wouldn’t have been so afraid of you.”
Those who would bring down upon us the whole weight of the Church are not high and mighty “Josephs” at all. They are the real jackasses. They bray loudly making all sorts of noise about all the things men of God should be and how the whole church is being laid to waste because of our insufficiencies and inadequacies. They sound terrifying, but they are really only jackasses. They may insist that they be heard because they are so close to Jesus, even as Joseph was, but for all their pomposity they remain just jackasses.
The Word of the Lord remains true. When our Lord Christ ordained us into His holy ministry, He didn’t relinquish His Lordship, His ministry, or His ministering. He remains the Bridegroom, we but groomsmen. He remains the Head of the Church, we but body parts. He remains the Master of the House, we but stewards. He is the One who purchased and won the Church not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Now we are the administrators of that Body and Blood, but first and foremost we are partakers of it. His Body and Blood avail for our sins and shortcomings no less than they do for those we minister to.
So, brothers, let the donkeys bray; let them claim to be Josephs and let them make us the jackasses. Let them say it, but by the grace of Christ, let us not believe it. Let us marvel instead that the Lord chooses those things that are weak and despised by the world to do His work in it, and still He always achieves His goals whether it be getting to Egypt or getting out His Word and Sacrament at another Divine service.