Joah was old when I met him in Bethany. He had lived in the little town across the ravine from Jerusalem all his life. He told me he never had the desire to travel, except to Jerusalem. What money he earned and should have saved, he invested, or might I say, squandered on so-called ‘opportunities.’ His wife Ruth didn’t call them that. She called them a waste—a waste of time, energy, and of the precious money that would have otherwise given her peace of mind.
One of the so-called opportunities came to Joah two years after the report that the man named Jesus came back to life after being crucified. His followers claimed they saw him and ate with him, even in Galilee. Supposedly, he went up to heaven from the vicinity of Bethany not far from Joah’s house. How did the newest ideal opportunity come to him?
He told me, “The number of Jesus’ followers increased rapidly in Jerusalem, in spite of the religious leaders’ best efforts to silence them. The disciples were bold and fearless, but also miracle workers. The reports were astonishing. Many of his followers who came from out of town passed through Bethany on their way to Jerusalem to meet Jesus’ original disciples. They appeared to retrace Jesus’ last days because he left Bethany riding on my donkey with a crowd following him.”
I learned that on a day before the most recent Passover, three travelers stopped and asked Joah if he had met Jesus. He replied nonchalantly that he hadn’t. The inquirers were surprised. They asked, “Didn’t Jesus raise Lazarus from the death in this town?” Joah replied, “People have to work. I was in Jerusalem taking care of some business.” When the travelers turned to leave, Joah spoke up, “I never met him, but my donkey did.”
The visitors laughed, thinking his comment was an attempt to keep their attention. “No, seriously,” Joah said firmly. “My donkey met Jesus. He rode my donkey into Jerusalem about a week before the Romans crucified him. His two disciples asked me to use the donkey for him. They told me they’d bring her and her colt back.” The visitors looked at Joah incredulously. He continued, “I don’t know what made me let them take her, but I did. I didn’t even ask for payment. They caught me when I wasn’t thinking.” The strangers asked, “Can we see your donkey?”
I felt Joah’s excitement when he continued his story, “Just then a light came on in my mind. I smiled to myself and told the visitors they could ride her for a denarius. I was surprised when they eagerly handed me one. When they were far enough away after taking the ride, I laughed aloud and shouted, ‘Hallelujah.’”
Joah rushed into the house to eagerly tell Ruth about his idea of sell rides on the donkey Jesus rode. He hugged her and then gave her his denarius from the strangers. She couldn’t make sense of Joah rapid chatter, so he had to repeat the story all over again to her.
“Ruth, don’t you get it? Jesus used our donkey to ride into Jerusalem. Remember? Well, with so many of his followers coming to meet his disciples, I can sell rides on the donkey Jesus rode. I don’t know if we’ll get rich, but we can make money that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Ruth rolled her eyes, sighed, and thought to herself, “Just another crazy Joah idea.” But Joah didn’t give her any time to keep thinking to herself. He quickly added, “Don’t you see? There’s no big outlay of money for this amazing opportunity. We’ve already got the donkey. We’re already buying her feed. Now we can cover that expense selling rides and, hopefully, make some extra money, too. It’s so easy.”
Joah hurriedly made a sign that day and posted it outside their house. He fantasized about the revenue stream as he admired the sign, ‘Ride the Donkey Jesus Rode. One Denarius.’ Our conversation came to an end when he told me sadly, “The one denarius I received from the strangers was the only one I ever got. She died the next day.”
I think about Joah every now and then. I wonder what he’s up to, or if Ruth has killed him because of all his failed crazy money-making ideas. I wonder if I would have paid a denarius to ride Joah’s donkey. It wasn’t on my bucket list, but I’m known for doing unusual things. I won’t lose any sleep over the idea because I’m happy to follow Jesus without ever paying a denarius to ride on the donkey Jesus rode.