I'm working on different symbols of Palm Sunday. Has anyone done work on the significance of the donkey Jesus rode on?
Yair Zakovitch, as cited by Bruce Feiler in Abraham, page 89, has considered the significance of the donkey. He explains:
Look, the Gospels are a very good piece of Jewish literature, and they understand that one cannot have a messianic leader who is not Davidic. If you want to convince the Jews that Jesus is the one, he has to be linked with David. He has to fulfill the prophecies. A messiah king has to be born in Bethlehem, he has to come to Jerusalem. Sure enough, when Jesus enters Jerusalem he enters on a donkey, because that's what we read in Zechariah 9.
The primary passage that this incident corresponds to is Zechariah 9:9-10 (ESV)
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The Jews at the time of Christ recognized this as a messianic prophecy. That the crowds reacted the way they did is further proof. Matthew 21:9
9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The donkey already had connotations that Zechariah and his original hearers would have understood.
When David ordered his son Solomon to be anointed as his successor, he had specific orders. 1 Kings 1:33, emphasis mine:
33 And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon.
So here we have a connection to Solomon and therefore David. The rider of Zechariah 9 was connected with David, as the crowds knew.
This further reinforces the sense of Zechariah 9:10 when says the rider will speak peace to the nations.
To the Jewish crowds and to us today the donkey symbolizes peace, and a man riding a donkey is a king bringing peace.
More donkey connotations:
Palm Sunday is rich in symbolism for those of us who are Catholic. Here is what Catholic Online has to say about Palm Sunday:
"Palm branches are widely recognized symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.
The use of a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic, it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a steed in war.
A week later, Christ would rise from the dead on the first Easter.
The colors of the Mass on Palm Sunday are red and white, symbolizing the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world."