Of Donkeys and Men
Ever heard of Donkey Basketball? If you want a good laugh--and I mean the fall-out-of-your-seat kind--just put grown men and women on the backs of a few real-live donkeys, then put them on a court with a basketball in hand. It's a new take on "March Madness." Each player must have contact of some kind with his/her donkey at all times, and while shooting the ball they must be astride their donkeys.
A "fast break"? Imagine everyone and their donkeys on one side of the court while the ball gets thrown to mid-court. The guy with the ball pulls as hard as possible on the donkey's leading rope, staggering down the court at a snail's pace. Then imagine the rest of the pack following as "fast" as they can. It's like slow motion, but in real time.
I was a witness to this cultural phenomenon earlier this week. Melissa ISD hosted the event as a fundraiser for prom. While I hooted and clapped with everyone else, my greatest joy came from seeing my husband make two baskets while--yes--riding his donkey. At least his mount didn't buck him off like a few others did their riders. It was quite a show. John did get bumped from behind on one shot, falling off the donkey's backside as the ball swished through the net. Of course, the students loved seeing their teachers play, elementary staff versus the secondary staff. Way fun. Way country. (If pictures ever become public, I'll be sure to share.)
I thought to write this post Tuesday night, right after the event. I'm glad I waited a couple of days. Yesterday, I came across another donkey. What is it with me and dumb animals? I was reading in Numbers, in my chronological Bible (applause, please: I made it through Leviticus!), and yesterday's reading was about Balaam the prophet.
Balaam is a prophet hired by the king of Moab, an enemy of Israel, to pronounce a curse upon Israel. Balaam wisely says "Let me see what the Lord says, then I'll pronounce whatever I'm told to." To the king's dismay, he blesses Israel instead of cursing them, then goes back to his own land. The king wants a do-over. He sends princes, emissaries with great riches, to entice Balaam back--hoping for that curse this time around. Though it's clear God is not happy with that idea, he allows Balaam to go.
While Balaam is on the road to return to Moab, an angel blocks the path. Balaam's donkey sees this, and tries to go around. Balaam, who cannot see God's messenger, beats the donkey. Then the angel stood in a narrow part of the path, so the donkey pressed up close to the rock wall, crushing Balaam's foot. He beats her again. Soon after, the angel positions himself in another narrow portion of the path, where there is no way around. The donkey lies down in the road, only to endure yet another beating from her frustrated rider.
Then something happens that didn't happen in the basketball game (thankfully!). God opens the mouth of the donkey, and she speaks to Balaam. "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" Guess what--Balaam talks back! Like it's no big deal he's talking with a dumb animal.
"You've made a fool of me!" Balaam shouts. The donkey replies, "Am I not your own donkey...have I been in the habit of doing this to you?"
"Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his dword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facdedown."
The angel explains that the donkey saved Balaam's life, yet all she got for it was a beating. Then he warns Balaam to go on his journey but to say only that which the Lord tells him to say. In other words, this journey was not my perfect will (as you are in it for your own gain), but since you've started it, obey me explicitly or things will go badly for you. I will accomplish my will, I will make this work for my good, despite you.
On some levels, Balaam's story is confusing. He's a prophet, but not always on the Lord's side. He obeys God sometimes, but keeps attempting to prophesy against Israel. We do know that he is stubborn. Once he has decided to walk a certain path, nothing will stop him. Not even his faithful donkey that is acting very out of character. Shouldn't her errant behavior served as a clue to him that something was wrong?
Do we have such warning signs in our lives? Do we even pause in our headlong rush towards a goal to judge the wisdom of said journey? Do inexplicable hindrances make us stop and reevaluate? Or can we be described as headstrong, stubborn, having blinders on, having tunnel vision...?
James says "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (1:5). Before embarking on any journey (task, goal, direction in life), whether questionable like Balaam's or seemingly righteous as far as we can tell, seeking wisdom from God is a pretty good idea.
I only combined these stories of basketball and Balaam because of the donkey element. They have nothing in common except this: the donkey won.