the lord has need of them

Jesus was perturbed about our delay, and then peeved at having to climb over the cedar branches in the road, so that might explain His little scene in the temple when we got to Jerusalem…”


by brian doyle


Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says something to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”

— Matthew 21

This is a raw lie. You can’t trust Matthew as far as you could throw him. He just wrote down whatever came into his head and there was little enough in there but the names of race-horses and which bars served the best wine when the evangelists went out on the town, which they did far more often than they admitted. They were a motley crew, I’ll tell you that. I could tell you stories.

The fact is that the day we went to get the donkey was a disaster. Himself sent me and Andrew to get the steeds, me because I had forearms like trees and Andrew because he was Peter’s kid brother and was always in Peter’s loud shadow, and I think the Lord wanted Andrew to build up some credit with the guys.

So off we go to the village.

We were pretty confident, all things considered, because when the Lord said something was going to happen, it happened exactly that way, but this time He wasn’t on His game, maybe, what with Jerusalem looming, and while we did immediately find a donkey, and a colt with her, when we went to untie them, and bring them immediately to the Big Guy, a hand like a steel bolt shot out and grabbed Andrew’s arm, and a voice like two rocks scraping said Not so fast, clown.

The Lord has need of them, I said, remembering our instructions.

Lord who?

The Lord. The one and only.

Which one and only?

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. The Messiah.

Says who?

Could we borrow your donkey, please? said Andrew in a funny voice. He was turning a little green from the way the guy was holding him like a hawk.

The. Lord. Has. Need. Of. Them, I said crisply, figuring maybe I hadn’t said it loudly enough. I noticed Jesus spoke loud and clear when he drove out demons and brought Lazarus back to life. Something to remember for all of us: when doing miracles, enunciate.

Tough, said the guy, emerging from the shadows and clapping his other hand on my arm, and I tell you, this guy like hands like bear traps. It wasn’t that they were so large – Peter has bigger hands; heck, Peter has hands like boats – but this guy must have wrist-wrestled lions for fun or something, because he had a grip like doom.

So there we were, Himself waiting for His triumphant ride into Jerusalem, fulfilling what was spoken by the prophet, with people spreading their garments in the road, and cutting branches from trees to spread in the road, although I have to note here that the branches weren’t your cute little palm fronds of today – no, no, these were cedar branches the size of horses, and it took Jesus a lot longer to pick His way over the pile of wood in the road than you would think from all the pretty pictures and all. And, you know, when the prophet said behold your King is coming to you gentle, that gentle bit was a near thing; Jesus was ready to pop a gasket until James cooled Him down by getting Jesus into the old if-God-is-all-powerful-can-He-make-a-rock-so-big-even-He-can’t-lift-it question, which even Jesus could never figure out. You don’t see that reported by Matthew either. Matthew was a useless piece of meat.

Anyway there we were with the guy holding us with his steel fingers, and Himself waiting impatiently at the Mount of Olives, and the donkey and the colt standing there flatulently, and things looking poorly altogether. We struggled against the guy’s grip, and we kicked and shouted and all, but the guy was the size of a house, and clearly he owned the animals and wasn’t about to let them wander off with two fishermen, and so we were kind of at a dead end there, when suddenly, I swear to God, the donkey spoke.

Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted upon a donkey, she said, in a rough voice, like she’d been out a little late with the Evangelists or something.

Even upon a colt, the foal of a beast of burden, said the colt, in kind of a high mincing voice like Matthew, and at that the giant released us.

I’d like to say that we grabbed the animals and went rushing back to the Mount of Olives but the fact is that we all just stood there for a long moment, astonished.

Soon enough off we went and so the prophesy was fulfilled as ordained, except for the word immediately, and the fact is, I have to report, that Jesus was perturbed about our delay, and then peeved at having to climb over the cedar branches in the road, so that might explain His little scene in the temple when we got to Jerusalem, and even there I have to say that Matthew muddles the whole thing, he says politely that Jesus overturned tables and chairs, but I was there, and it was chaos and hubbub of the first order. I saw a table go by twenty feet over my head, and Himself splintered a chair into matchsticks, and I saw a moneychanger float by in a lovely parabola that may have landed him in the Jordan River for all I know. Memorable day altogether. I could tell you stories.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Two
September 2004


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal.  More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2004)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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