Lenten Reflection: Ordinary assets

Apr. 2, 2023

“The Lord has a need of your donkey.”  Matthew 21:3

I’m glad I answered the phone.

One of great gifts of my life is living in the nexus of a remarkable, diverse, generous community of people who humbly and quietly display unusually high levels of benevolence and compassion. It certainly fuels a hopeful outlook for our world.

“Any of your staff or interns need dental work?” offered the man on the other end of the line. Since all our staff have teeth, my interest peaked. The logical question followed.

“What’s your rate?”

“Oh, I’d do it no cost,” he continued. “It’s the gift God has given me. It’s what I do.”

No cost? Either this guy was a quack, or I had just won the tooth fairy lottery. For our workers, often living pay check to pay check, an extraordinary offer. Free dental! My curiosity bested me. “Just interested to know,” I pressed. “Why us? Why help in this way?”

“My dad pastored a little mission church in North Philadelphia in the 1950’s,” continued my new best-dentist-friend. “They barely paid him. We were dirt poor.”

The family struggled. Basic necessities—like dental work—were often sacrificed for more immediate needs like food and heat. A scholarship to dental school afforded him a viable career in dentistry. “I decided if I ever became successful,” he volunteered, “I’d use my gifts to help those making sacrifices for God.”  You can guess what happened next.

For the past 20 years, root canals, tooth extractions, chipped tooth repairs, cavity fillings and annual cleanings for staff and interns have been done at the hands of Doctor Dan—for free. That’s a lot of open mouths. A lot of time in his chairs. Thousands of dollars in savings for our people…and lost revenue for his business. Most importantly, hours of unnecessary, mission-distracting pain eliminated for our people. One man offering his skills, his talents, his assets back to God.  A big deal. It can’t be overlooked. Simple human things matter—and can have divine implications. Ever try driving a hot bus full of screaming kids, while nursing a compacted, abscessed tooth? Not recommended.

As we approach Palm Sunday I’ve been thinking about small, ordinary things that get overlooked in familiar stories. Small things can have big meanings. On Palm Sunday everyone talks about the waving palm branches, Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowds shouting Hosanna.  But no one ever ponders the origin of the donkey. Yet this mule matters and plays an important role in the passion story—both practically and symbolically.

“Go ahead to the next village,” says Jesus to a few of his disciples. “You’ll find a donkey. Untie it and bring it to me.”  Anticipating possible opposition from the donkey’s owner, Jesus adds, “Just say the Lord needs it.” A fascinating exchange ensues, resulting in a first century, Zipcar ride-sharing experience for Jesus.

Adding an interesting spin to this encounter is one of my urban ministry heroes, Bob Lupton, from Atlanta.  Instead of being hesitant to make this loan, Lupton imagines the owner of the donkey humbled by the opportunity to be part of history. In a culture steeped in Messianic expectation, this owner thinks this request is kind of special.  “The Lord wants my donkey?  I’m honored!”

Lupton continues, “this property owner from a town on the outskirts of Jerusalem had an asset Jesus needed to fulfill a divine purpose.  It was not a very costly offering, just a day’s investment of an asset he used in making his living, but a very significant one. And so it has been down through history—God using the ordinary assets of ordinary men and women to accomplish divine purposes.”

“Ordinary assets….accomplishing divine purposes.”  I like that idea. A thought to chew on this holy weekend. You and I may not be able to fix a root canal, but I suspect we’ve all got a “donkey” in our wheelhouse to offer—an ordinary asset that will advance God’s hopeful story of redemption for our world.

Blessings –

Bruce Main
Founder & President