Weekly Sermon (5)

Sermon – Palm Sunday March 24, 2024

Adira and Gabriella

A Story for Palm Sunday

March 24, 2024

Scripture: Zechariah 9:9-10, Matthew 21:1-11

From the day she was born, Adira was not a healthy child. Her level of energy was just not the same as others of the same age within the community, and as such, she was often left behind when the other children ran off to play. Her parents tried their best to help their daughter and consulted all of the best doctors in the region but they all said the same thing, ‘Adira just does not have the strength to thrive…she will most likely always be a step behind the rest’. In spite of that, Adira’s parents refused to give up  on their child and prayed constantly that the Lord would one day bless their little girl with strength, health, and vitality.

To that end, Adira’s parents decided to give their daughter a special present on her tenth birthday. The family jenny, ‘Liat’ by name, had given birth to a foal a month or so before and they decided to give it to Adira both as a companion, as well as something for their daughter to look after. They hoped the gift of the little foal would be something to help keep her mind off of her persistent illness and struggle. Little Adira fell in love almost immediately with the baby donkey and promptly named her Gabriella, which means ‘God is my strength’.

Now, this particular little donkey was not perfect either. She was born with a slightly deformed left front leg, giving her a bit of a limp. But her energy was contagious as she romped back and forth along with her mother in the barnyard, kicking up her heels and obviously enjoying her new life. Little Gabriella may not have been perfect, but she was perfectly what Adira needed, as she sought to navigate her way through her young life.

From the very start the two hit it off, as Adira became deeply attached to her new companion and doted on her pretty much all of the time. And as they grew together, they also both began to flourish. Adira no longer had the persistent headaches and lack of energy, and young Gabriella grew strong and tall, her limp still there, but now not as noticeable unless she was walking slowly. Gabriella was still a young donkey, but she was starting to move into her eventual role as one who could carry her portion of the family goods off to market each week.

And so it was, that at the beginning of each week, Adira proudly led her dear companion into the nearby town and over to where the farmer’s stalls were set up, just outside of the Jerusalem city proper. With time, Adira and Gabriella became a common sight in the little market, Adira following her father Asher and Liat over to their appointed place in the market, where they would set up their wares for sale that day. If it was a good day at the market there would be very little to reload onto the donkeys and Adira might even be allowed to ride Gabriella home, proudly astride her beloved friend. Days like that however did not occur often, and both Liat and Gabriella frequently made the two mile trek back home with pretty full loads.

But on the evening before this particular market day, Adira was not feeling so well, and her parents decided to let her sleep in and rest up. The next morning Adira’s father loaded up the two donkeys and headed off to the market just before dawn.

The morning sun was just beginning to stream in through Adira’s window when she awoke with a start. She knew this was market day and was distressed to have overslept. Hurriedly she dressed and went out into the kitchen where she found her mother Ziva already busy with the chores of the day. ‘Mom’, she shouted, ‘why didn’t you wake me up? I have to help father load up the donkeys to go to market!’ ‘Adira dear’, her mother said gently, ‘you were not feeling well yesterday and your father and I felt it best for you to sleep in and rest so you would feel better sooner. Your father has already gone off to the market with both Liat and Gabriella. He is fine, he wanted me to assure you that he could handle it by himself today. Why don’t you sit down here and let me make you a cup of tea, it will make you feel better I’m sure.’ ‘But mom’, implored Adira, ‘I feel fine this morning. I was tired out from all the work we did yesterday with both Gabriella and Liat, but I did not want to miss the market today…I look forward to doing it with father each week.’

Concerned for her daughter, but heartened by her enthusiasm and determination to do her part, Ziva said, ‘Adira dear, have some breakfast and tea, and then if you still want to go and join your father you may’. While she was speaking Ziva had her back to the kitchen as she worked at the stove. She had barely finished speaking when she heard Adira yell back to her, ‘Thanks mom, I will be home later with father.’ Smiling, she turned back to her work, reflecting back on her daughter’s early years when she never would have had either the energy or the gumption to go running off to the market all on her own. She was not worried for her daughter as they were in a tight knit community and everyone looked out for one another.

For his part, Adira’s father Asher had made it to the market fairly early and had set up in time to go into the local shop to have a cup of tea before the market opened at 9 am. He tied Liat and Gabriella to the hitching rail outside of the shop and went inside where he ordered the tea and a small loaf of fresh bread. Sitting down inside the shop and out of the sun that was beginning to warm the day considerably, he was surprised to see his friend Benjamin rush in all out of breath, calling out his name urgently. ‘Asher, Asher, come quickly,’ Benjamin exclaimed. ‘There are a couple of men outside who are untying your donkeys from the railing. I told them to stop, but they did not seem to listen!’ Leaving his half finished cup of tea and the loaf of bread at his table, Asher hurriedly arose and made his way outside. Sure enough, there were three men there untying his donkeys and beginning to lead them away. ‘Hey there’, Asher shouted to them. ‘What do you think you are doing with my donkeys, they belong to me and my family, you have no right to just take them!’ One of the men, who seemed to be their leader, turned to Asher and said simply and quietly, ‘The Lord has need of them.’ Shocked at the man’s response, Asher was quiet for a moment. Benjamin , who was now standing by his side, said to him, ‘Tell them they can’t have them Asher! How will you be able to get your goods home from the market today? Whatever will you tell Ziva when you get home without both of your donkeys! And what will you ever tell Adira, who as you know, is totally devoted to little Gabriella? You must tell them to stop!’ Looking over at his friend, Asher said quietly, ‘It’s okay Benjamin, I will manage.’

 Then turning to the men who by now had both of the donkeys untied, Asher said to them, ‘Go in peace, you have my blessing.’ And with that the men led Liat and little Gabriella away, soon disappearing into the growing crowd of market goers milling about. Turning back to Benjamin, Asher said, ‘do not worry my friend, I have a strange sense that this is going to be alright. You know how the Lord has always provided for me, and how he has been so generous with my family…if the men say that the Lord has need of them, who am I to refuse their request?’

‘Well my friend’, said Benjamin, ‘that is all well and good, and I have always admired the measure of your faith, but good luck explaining to your daughter why her little Gabriella is gone!’ And with that Benjamin grabbed Ashed by the shoulders, turning him so he was able to see his daughter running towards them, a bright and beaming smile lighting up her face. ‘Father, father’, she exclaimed, ‘I am so sorry I overslept! But I am here now to help! Where did you set up our things, and where are Gabriella and Liat? ‘ she asked.

Kneeling down Asher took his daughter in his arms saying, ‘Adira my dear, it seems as though Gabriella may be living into her name today. Some men came by and took both Liat and Gabriella with them, explaining that the Lord had need of them in Jerusalem. So truly, we both need to affirm that indeed, God is our strength.’ Shocked and upset, Adira broke down in tears as she blurted out, ‘But why Father? Why did they have to take our donkeys? I can’t live without Gabriella, she is my best friend…you know that…please, please go get them back’, she sobbed, unable to understand why anyone should be able to just take their donkeys…and especially, her dearest friend.

Holding her close, Asher once again tried to comfort his daughter, ‘Adira, I just have this feeling that everything will be alright…if our Lord needs something from us, no matter what it is, we must be willing to let it go. I promise that if I need to, I will get you another donkey, it will be okay’. In his heart, Asher truly believed what he said, but he had a nagging worry as to how he would ever be able to carry home whatever goods were not sold that day. But he hoped his explanation would at least comfort his daughter a little bit.

But that was not to be so as Adira backed out of her father’s embrace and wiping the tears from her eyes said simply, ‘Then I am going to get Gabriella back all by myself!’ ‘Sweetheart’, implored Asher, ‘please try to understand. It is okay, I know in my heart that the Lord will provide for us as he always has. It will be alright, you’ll see.’ ‘No’! shouted Adira, and with that she turned and ran off in the direction of Jerusalem, disappearing into the huge crowd so quickly that Asher just stood there, stunned and unsure of what to do next.

Benjamin who had watched the whole thing said to Asher, ‘Don’t worry my friend, I will go and get her, she can’t have gone far. You stay here and tend to your stall, there are customers already looking over your wares’. Still filled with concern, Asher replied, ‘please hurry Benjamin, she runs a lot faster than she did as a child, hurry and bring her back to me!’ ‘Don’t worry Asher’, Benjamin assured his friend, ‘I still have some ‘get up and go’ in these old bones, I will be right back I promise!’ And with that, Benjamin too disappeared into the crowd, running off towards Jerusalem, amazed that the road seemed so crowded that day. Glancing every which way he looked for Adira, but the crowd was so large that he began to worry that he might not find her any time soon.  For his part, Asher turned back to his stall and tried to get his mind off of his growing concern…trying to concentrate on the crowd of patrons now gathering around his stall.

Adira ran until she had to stop and rest for a minute. She had been looking everywhere along the road, but she too had been hampered by the press of the crowd, unable to see very far ahead and growing increasingly alarmed at the possibility that she might not ever find her beloved Gabriella. Slowly she began to walk again, going down all of the side streets in the hope that whoever had taken the donkeys may have stopped, or may have reached their destination.

Eventually the crowd thinned out as she got further and further away from the market and closer to the city walls. Strangely, the roadway seemed to be strewn with broken palm branches and leaves, as if someone had decided to carpet the road for someone important to walk upon. But Adira couldn’t be bothered to figure out why. She was on a mission and was determined to find and take back Liat and Gabriella.

There were still lots of people along the roadway, but they were huddled in small groups talking in low tones as if they did not want to be heard. Walking up to a group of women Adira asked, ‘did any of you happen to see two donkeys come by here? A young one and her mother, a larger one?’ ‘Why yes’, one of the women replied. ‘Just a little while ago there was a huge commotion here and a man came up the road towards Jerusalem riding on the smaller of the two. He was surrounded by a group of people who seemed to be close friends of his. They were all ecstatic and yelling at the top of their voices that this man riding the donkey was supposedly the promised one who was to come and deliver Israel from her Roman oppressors. We did not know the man, although we realized we had heard of him lately as the one who had been doing great things in the name of God. He seemed quiet and serene, and not at all as energized as the rest of the crowd. His followers however had convinced many in the crowd that indeed he was the Anointed One and had whipped them up into a frenzy’.

‘Do you know where they were headed?’ asked Adira. ‘You see, those were my family’s donkeys, and someone came to the market and took them from my father, and I plan on taking them back. ‘Oh my dear’, said another of the women, ‘I would be careful if I were you. It may be best to leave it alone, for I have heard that this man, the whom they call ‘Jesus’, is not well liked by many people, and he may get into trouble once he gets into Jerusalem’.

‘I don’t care about that’, bristled Adira. ‘Those donkeys are mine, and I am going to get them back no matter what’. ‘Well, please be careful dear’, counseled the second woman, ‘I am serious when I say that there may be trouble in Jerusalem. For you see, the crowd is claiming that Jesus is some sort of a King, and that will not bode well for him in the city that belongs to King Herod!’ And with that final warning, Adira ran off again in the direction of the city, now rested and ready to do her best to find her beloved Gabriella.

Now Benjamin had searched high and low for Adira, even looking down the side streets as well, but having no luck in locating his friend’s daughter. Finally he had to give up, she just did not seem to be anywhere in sight. The market was still teeming with patrons, and everyone he asked whether or not they had seen a small girl looked at him as if he were joking, for there were many such children mixed in with the crowd. With a heavy heart Benjamin turned back to let his friend know that he had not been successful. Coming up to Asher’s stall, Asher could tell from Benjamin’s expression that he had not succeeded in finding Adira. Benjamin began, ‘I’m so sorry Asher, I’ve looked everywhere, everyplace I could think of, and just did not find her. I went up the road until the crowd thinned out where I could see far, far ahead, but Adira was nowhere to be found. I am so sorry.’ With deep compassion, Asher replied, ‘it is alright Benjamin, I know you did your best. I am just going to have to trust that if indeed the men this morning were truly sent from God, then my little girl will be okay as well. I felt a great sense of peace this morning, and I need to believe that this too is somehow of God as well. Don’t worry yourself any longer, she will be back.’ ‘ I hope so’, said Benjamin, taking a seat in Asher’s stall, deciding to wait with him for Adira’s return.

Upon entering the city, Adira saw a huge crowd gathered around the outer walls of the Temple. She had no idea what was going on, but the crowd was so thick she was unable to get very close at all. There was much shouting and clamor as it seemed that there were many still claiming loudly that the ‘Son of David’ was there, all laughing and crying with apparent joy as they pressed in against the Temple walls. Others however did not seem so happy whatsoever. They were the Temple guards who were rushing about, brandishing their swords and staffs, threatening people to back off and to go home.

Suddenly there was even more shouting as a great commotion seemed to be taking place within the walls of the Temple in the Outer Court. People were shouting angrily and rushing out of the Temple, trying not to get tripped up by numerous animals and birds also seemingly trying to escape the commotion.

And with that, the crowd suddenly seemed to evaporate before Adira. People began to murmur to one another about something dangerous and horrible happening and they obviously wanted no part of it. Slipping away they just seemed to dissolve into the side streets and alleys as the Temple Guards continued to drive them away from the immediate area surrounding the Temple. And after twenty minutes or so the whole outer courtyard and area surrounding the Temple entrance was deserted, save for Adira who still stood there all alone, with a stubborn and determined look on her face. She had come this far, and was not going to give up now. Somehow she sensed that all of this was somehow related to the men who had taken Liat and Gabriella that morning.

And as she stood there in the quiet, suddenly she noticed a small group of people coming out of the Temple and down the steps. One of them, a young man, seemed to be the center of attention, but he walked as though he was not at all concerned by the commotion and chaos that had just recently subsided.

As they drew close to Adira, she suddenly was at a loss for words. The man whom she thought was the leader seemed so regal, almost as if he had a certain glow about him. Walking up to Adira, the man began to speak to her. ‘Adira’, he said. ‘I am so glad to see you. Were it not for you and Gabriella, this day might never have happened’. Totally amazed that the man seemed to know her name as well as Gabriella’s, Adira did not know what to say. The man continued, ‘You see my dear one, I needed to borrow Gabriella today so that I could come into the city as the Prophets from of old had prophesied. And your little foal was the perfect one to help me do just that.’

‘But I just came to take her and my father’s donkey back home’, Adira exclaimed. ‘I was not there when your men came and took Gabriella and Liat away, and I really need them back. I don’t know how we will manage without them, and I am not even sure how we will be able to get our wares home tonight if we can’t load them onto their backs.’

One of the women there interrupted, ‘Jesus, surely you can help her. Those animals were obviously very important to Adira and her family.’ ‘Mary, my dear’, responded Jesus, ‘Of course I was going to return them to Adira, I only needed them for today’. Then turning his attention back to Adira he continued, ‘Adira, I have known you from the very beginning, and I admire your strength and courage. You are such a joy to me, and I shall forever remember your family’s generosity, kindness, and faithfulness. Gabriella and Liat are on their way back here right now. I asked Andrew to go and get them from the safe place I had them put for you.’

Unable to take it all in, Adira could only stand there while Jesus was talking. Somehow she knew that in fact her father’s words that morning were true, everything would be alright, and there really was never anything to worry about. Seeing Liat and Gabriella enter the square, she ran over to them. Overjoyed to see them she squealed with delight. ‘Oh Gabriella, I am so happy to see you! I missed you so much.’ Then turning to Jesus, Adira said, ‘I am sorry Jesus that I was so upset with you today. I just could not understand why you had to choose my donkey. But I see that you took good care of both of them, and I guess I am happy you were able to use them today. But now I really must be going, you see I left my father tending the market by himself and it is now so late he is probably all cleaned up and worried sick about me.’

Smiling, Jesus replied, ‘I know you are concerned but your father is fine, his faith has given him a depth of understanding that I wish more people had. Go ahead now, and thank you once again. You have been a real blessing to me this day’. And with that, Adira turned and began the journey back to the marketplace, so happy to have found Gabriella, but even more moved by the sense of peace and joy she had felt in Jesus’ presence.

Surprisingly to Adira the trip back to her father went by very quickly, and in no time she saw him in the distance, sitting there alongside of Benjamin, pretty much all alone in the marketplace. Wanting to hurry and run to him, Adira walked to the final stretch, for was so tired from the events of the day. Never before had she run so much all in one day. But while she was physically tired, she felt strangely energized as she drew near to her father. Both Asher and Benjamin noticed Adira at the same time and her father got up and rushed out to meet her. ‘Adira, sweetheart, I am so happy to see you. Tell me everything about your day. Surely it must have been an adventure, as I know those men truly were sent by the Lord. ‘Yes they were’, said Adira. And with that she began to share all that she had seen and heard. In the middle of her story, Adira realized that in fact everything they had brought to the market that day had been sold, allowing both her and her father to mount up on Liat and Gabrielle to begin the ride home.

When Adira got to the part where she shared that Jesus had ridden Gabriella all the way up the Jerusalem Road into the city, Asher suddenly stopped and got off of Liat. Looking down and running his hands along Gabriella’s lower leg he looked up at Adira in amazement. ‘Adira’, he said softly. ‘Do you realize what happened today? When you told me that Jesus had ridden Gabriella, I was concerned as she is so young. But when I looked down, I saw that her deformed left leg had somehow been miraculously healed!’ Glancing down herself, Adira said, ‘Oh, Daddy, you are right…her leg is straight! She no longer has a limp whatsoever!’

‘I told you it would be alright my dear’ said Asher, ‘now let’s get home so we can share all that happened today with your mother. This was a most blessed day indeed, for the grace of God has shone down mightily upon our family…thanks be to God’

‘Yes, thanks be to God’, Adira said softly, as they continued slowly down the road towards home.


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