What a Donkey Taught Me About Humility
“Samson used a jawbone of an ass to slay a thousand Philistines. Imagine what you can do with an entire ass.” —St. John Vianney
I’m a high school math teacher. This is a position I have loved and tried to carry out to the best of my ability for the past fifteen years. However, since becoming married, I unknowingly acquired another, sort of unofficial, job and title at work, that of cheer donkey.
You might be asking, what on earth is a cheer donkey? My wife is a national champion cheerleading coach at the high school in Arkansas where we both work. When I married her, I also married into the sport of cheerleading. I found myself attending practices and competitions, not because I know anything at all about competitive cheerleading, but because I discovered I am really good at carrying things for my wife and the girls on the team. I can carry pom poms, megaphones, lipstick, hair spray, bows, signs, audio equipment, backpacks, and other cheerleading essentials to and from these practices and competitions. Over the years, instead of a pack mule, I have been lovingly named by the girls, the cheer donkey.
That’s fine with me. I’m not at all unhappy about being named after a donkey. In fact, I think it’s a shame that such a noble creature, with so many amazing stories in Scripture and the lives of saints, is now associated with a curse word.
One thing I have learned about being a cheer donkey for a high school cheerleading team is that it is never about the cheer donkey. It is always about the girls and my wife. I do whatever I can to try and make their performances easier and less stressful by keeping my head down and my mouth shut, while moving their equipment wherever they may need me to move it. I simply try to serve, not be served. It is not about me. This is one of the great virtues that real donkeys throughout salvation history have taught us about our spiritual lives.
Donkeys in the Bible
Sacred Scripture utilizes the donkey as a symbol of humility because it is truly an animal for the poor that brings down those perceived to be mighty.1 In several instances in the Old and New Testaments, a donkey also points our gaze toward God’s power and the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.
Granted, our first instance is a bit gruesome.
In the Book of Judges 15:15–17, Samson picks up the jawbone of an ass (aka, a donkey) and uses it to slay one thousand Philistines in battle. In this story, Samson’s wife is murdered by the Philistines and he vows to take revenge against them. Samson is then captured and brought to the Philistine camp, when the “Spirit of the Lord” comes upon him and gives him the strength to break his bonds. Free of confinement, he finds the jawbone of 9 an ass lying on the ground. Grasping it in his hand, he fights off and slays one thousand of his captors. After the battle, Samson tosses his blood-soaked weapon into the air in victory, forever naming the field of battle as Ramath-lehi, which in Hebrew means “Jawbone Hill.”
Theologian John A. Grindel, CM, says, “When Samson sees the Philistines the spirit of the Lord comes upon him, moving him once again to extraordinary action.”2 This “extraordinary action” is not only God’s power over his creation, but also the power of a humble faith in God. A donkey’s jawbone is only about nine inches in length.3 The proud Philistines, attacking Samson on all sides with swords much stronger and longer than a simple jawbone, must have been supremely confident rushing at Samson to strike him down. How the mighty were humbled on the battlefield that day by the simple, long-discarded remains of an animal used by the poor of Israel for their everyday needs. God truly humbles those who consider themselves mighty and raises up the lowly. . . Keep Reading
An excerpt from Chapter 1 of God Saw That It Was Good: A Safari Through Salvation History by Brant Law