Fr Stephen: He Who Has Ears to Hear


After the Palm Sunday service yesterday at the Cathedral, I had a delightful conversation with a parishioner in which we tried to unpack the meaning of why Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem on a young donkey.

I pointed out that it was, in part, a bit of political speech that drew a contrast between Jesus entrance and that of the Pilate’s guard as they had entered into Jerusalem in advance of the Passover. It can also be seen in contrast to the Roman custom of Imperial Processions.

She pointed out that the donkey had never been ridden before, and that this pointed to what must have been a noticeable quality that an animal that would be expected to shy and buck was instead walking calmly through a raucous and cheering crowd. She was struck by the way image of Jesus going calmly to his death was mirrored in the aspect of the donkey on which he rode.

We both wondered though why in St. Matthew’s gospel the account presented Jesus as riding simultaneously on a donkey and on a colt.

So I was delighted to come across this blog meditation by a former Episcopal priest who is now a priest of the Orthodox Church which discusses this very question:

“Here the second beast is handled under the mystery of the faith. Christ, Lord of Israel, the ass who has been tamed, and Lord of the Gentiles, the untamed foal, is the Lord of both! Modern critics might race to cry ‘foul’ (no pun intended), but the ancient hymnographer has come closer to the heart of Scripture than either the modern sceptic or the modern literalist will ever know.

The inspired (I know no other word) imagination of the early Church that took the ‘Apostolic Hypothesis,’ as St. Irenaeus would call it, and fashioned the framework on which the Old Testament would be read, is the same early Church that gave us the Gospels (inspired indeed) and the other writings of Scripture. Their treatment of prophecy is not obvious. Where is the three day resurrection prophesied (only in Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the whale – now that is inspired interpretation)? The writers of the New Testament believed that everything in the Old, when read rightly would yield insight into the Messiah and the mystery of our salvation. But their creative insight (again, I believe it is inspired) is far removed from the flat-footed nonsense that we hear out of modern fundamentalist ‘prophetic’ scholars, whose reading of the Old Testament is almost as poorly constructed as the 19th century false prophecies of the book of Mormon! Neither bear any resemblance to the treatment of prophecy found in the New Testament.

And thus I return to my original point. We have become deaf. We listen with ears either hardened by modernist scepticism, or by a false literalism that has substituted Darbyite nonsense for the Apostolic faith, or reduced Scripture to delicate harmonizations. None of them have the boldness and audacity of the patristic hymnographers who stood in the proper line of succession, proclaiming the faith as it had been taught and received and continuing to expound its mysteries. Thank God that somewhere in this modern world, you can still stand and listen to the wonders of our salvation, sung and unraveled before the unbelieving heart of man. Glory to God who has so loved mankind!”

Read the whole meditation here: He Who Has Ears to Hear

(Via Glory to God for All Things.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Caelius Spinator says

    Heh, heh. I’ve been reading Bede’s sermons as they come up and his Palm Sunday sermon makes this exact point.

  2. bls: I think Fr. Stephen’s point is that Matthew is making use of holy imagination more than he is trying to describe what would be, by any description, an awkward way of fulfilling the literal sense of a poetic prophesy. I was taught in seminary that Matthew rather earnestly tried to do the latter. The former was not even considered, allegory being considered a dirty word in seminary at the time.
    What I find most interesting frankly is the final paragraph of Fr. Stephen’s reflection which points out the spiritual poverty that comes from trying to live in a modernist world of “yes/no” rather than one of “both/and”.

  3. I can understand that, Fr. Nick, and I agree.
    But I don’t mind, either, if Matthew made a mistake. He was human, after all. 😉

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