“Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it you will find a colt there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here” (Mark 11:2).
I’m not comfortable with deliberate, willful disobedience.
That’s not to say I’ve never been guilty of it. But I don’t admire it in others and I never feel good about it in myself. I’ve tried it. There’s a major intersection near my house where Center Street and Macada Road meet. On Center there’s a wide asphalt shoulder that people are often tempted to use as a passing lane when blocked at the light. I’ve been similarly tempted. More than once. But the shoulder of the road is marked with large letters “NO.” As if to say, “don’t even think about using this as a passing lane.”
Confession: I’ve cheated. Not often, but I’ve cheated. And even when it seems expedient, like a simple right-hand turn from the shoulder of the road, flaunting the rules just doesn’t sit well with me. By nature I’m a rule follower and I expect others to be as well.
But I know this is also true: My obedience is not always freely and gladly given. I may keep the rules, but I’m grousing all the while, resenting the cars in front of me that are slowing me down and getting in my way, fantasizing about how I’d like to be able to do whatever I want to do. Willful disobedience isn’t in my nature, but neither is glad obedience freely rendered – the very kind of obedience that God wants.
Begrudging compliance is not what God asks of us.
Wanting to Understand
The gospel accounts of both Mark and Luke tell us a story about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem that involves a peculiar instruction to two unnamed disciples. Jesus told these two disciples that somewhere around the villages of Bethphage and Bethany they would find a colt that no one had ever sat upon. They were to untie the colt and bring it to Jesus. If anyone questioned them or tried to stop them, they were to answer that ‘the Lord has need of it.’
This is one of those Bible stories that strikes me as odd. Some scholars think that Jesus had made arrangements for the colt in advance, so that the instruction to his disciples isn’t actually as cryptic as it sounds to us when we read about it. But still, Jesus’s words leave much unsaid. He doesn’t explain what he will do with the colt. He doesn’t explain why it’s important. In fact, Jesus doesn’t explain anything. He simply tells them what to do. The rest is unknown.
The week ahead of these disciples – what we call Holy week – was indeed a week of unknowns. Holy Week invites us to keep walking with Jesus, responsive to his words, even when there are things about this faith-walk that are not entirely clear to us.
Jesus often gives us his word of instruction without answering all of our questions. Again, I find that my obedience in these moments is a reluctant obedience. I follow the instruction and obey the rule, but I don’t like it. I want more. I want to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen next, and why I’m being asked to do what I’m being asked to do.
Leaning on What?
The obedience that God wants from us is often hindered by a resistant will. We want to do whatever we like. Just as often, God-honoring obedience is hindered by a questioning mind. We want to understand all the whys and wherefores, what’s going on and where things are headed. In the words of Proverbs 3:5, we are strongly inclined to “lean on our own understanding.”
I’m not often guilty of willful disobedience. I do struggle, however, with a questioning obedience. Maybe you do too. If so, this strange prelude to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem reminds us of a couple of things that we need to keep in mind.
First, at any given moment there’s more going on than we know, and what is unknown to us is known fully to God. In the gospel of John we are told directly that even as Jesus entered the city, seated on the colt, surrounded by celebratory shouts, his disciples didn’t understand what was happening (12:16). The significance of the colt, the meaning of the words from Psalm 118 – none of it fully registered with them. There was much they didn’t know.
Second, obedience is more an expression of trust than it is knowledge or understanding. Those disciples found the colt and did exactly what Jesus had asked of them. They did so not because they knew the plan, but because they trusted their teacher, their Lord. We obey by taking the next step, not by mapping the entire route. Paul was right when he wrote, “we live by faith and not by sight.”
As you make your way through Holy Week, what unknowns are you dealing with? Where are you anxiously trying to map the entire route?
Prayer: Give us the grace we need, O God, to walk faithfully with you in the midst of our unknowns. Cause our hearts to render glad obedience rather than mere compliance and confirm our steps throughout this day that we might walk closer with you tomorrow, we pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.