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Mary's little donkey

From the December 24, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Sissy’s drawing

Sissy’s drawing of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.


Did you know that many donkeys have a cross on their backs? Well, they do! All the Mediterranean breeds have a distinct cross-like marking on their backs. The donkey played an important part throughout the Bible. A donkey talked back to Balaam, carried Solomon to his coronation, and fulfilled a prophecy as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. 

There are many fictional stories about how people imagined the donkey got its cross. My
favorite one goes like this: Joseph bought a donkey for Mary a few weeks before they left for Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Mary and the donkey got along quite nicely and became good friends. On cold nights, Mary would wrap her cloak around the little donkey, so she would not be cold. Mary fed her treats of carrots and figs, and went on long walks with her. At this time, Mary was pregnant. The donkey listened to her talk all about her baby and about her love for God, and the donkey seemed to understand. By the time the three set out for
Bethlehem, Mary and the little donkey were best friends. 

The journey to Bethlehem was a long one, over rocky roads. Along the way, the donkey stepped on a thorn. Neither Joseph nor Mary knew about the thorn, so the donkey kept going. Although the thorn bothered the donkey at first, she decided she would not limp, because it might make Mary uncomfortable. So she walked carefully, all the way to Bethlehem, never bouncing Mary. The donkey knew that her work was very important and nothing could stop her from doing her job well. The donkey knew she was serving Mary unselfishly and that God was taking care of all of them. When they finally reached Bethlehem, the donkey was glad to lie down and rest, outside of the cave where Joseph and Mary stayed. As usual, Mary laid her cloak over the little donkey and gave her a dried fig before she told her good night.

Sissy and her donkey

Sissy with her little donkey, Gabriella.

— Courtesy photo

In the night, an angel appeared to the donkey and said, “Since you’ve served so faithfully and unselfishly, you and all your children, and all your children’s children, will be blessed and honored.” The angel touched the donkey and the donkey slept peacefully. In the morning, when Joseph brought the little donkey her hay, he lifted Mary’s cloak from the donkey’s back and saw a cross that had not been there before. And that is how the donkey got her cross.

I have a little donkey on my farm named Gabriella, and whenever I see her, I think of Mary’s donkey. Gabriella is intelligent, with a very large heart. My family breeds sheep on our farm. Several times, we have arrived in the pasture to find Gabriella standing over an unexpected newborn lamb and protecting it from all the other curious barnyard animals. It always warms my heart, seeing her protecting the lambs so unselfishly. I always think that an angel must have told her to protect the baby lamb. 

Thinking about donkeys makes me remember that God speaks to each of us in a language we can understand. So we don’t have to struggle to listen to God, because His message is clear and direct to each and every one of us. And we all have important work to do.

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Sissy loves caring for her animal friends on her farm, breeding and showing rabbits and dairy goats, riding horses and sorting cattle. She also likes to sew and keep honeybees.

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