Numbers 22-24 has one of those richly odd Old Testament stories that is just loaded with things to ponder. The basic story is this: while the children of Israel are wandering around in the wilderness the leader of Moab gets worried because there are so many of them. His solution is to summon a prophet of God named Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. When Balaam is summoned he gets a word from God to not go, so he refuses to go. When he is asked again he agrees to go but an Angel of the Lord is sent to prevent him from doing so. Apparently Balaam's donkey is more spiritual than Balaam because the donkey can see the Angel with a flaming sword standing in the road, on the path and in the way. Balaam beats his donkey to get it moving when, much to every one's surprise the donkey speaks (Numbers 22:28) and says "what have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" In the ensuing conversation Balaam learns that his donkey is one smart and spiritually aware beastie and, eventually, his eyes are also opened and he sees the angel and hears from the Lord. He goes to Moab but blesses Israel rather than deliver the curse the leader of Moab wanted.
I find this an enormous lesson in humility. But I shouldn't be surprised. God is working his purpose out in the world and will use whatever tools are available to make his point. It is humbling to think that a beast of burden, a donkey, can have more spiritual insight than his master. I find it deeply humbling to think that on those days that I am not listening to God, not paying attention or simply oblivious, that God uses animals and even inanimate objects to get his point across. It is humbling and at the same time it is hopeful. God is working his purpose out either because of us or in spite of us.
In this story, I am reminded of another donkey. This one carried Jesus down the Mount of Olives on that first Palm Sunday. As a preacher I can imagine the shouts of Hosanna, I can see the waving palm branches, I can see the crowds thronging inward. I can imagine that the donkey must of felt pretty special on this day and may have even basked in the glow of the celebration feeling that some how and in some special way it was about him, too. I remember one preacher telling this story and stopping at that point and reminding all of us ministers of God's word, remember when the crowd shouts its approval that like this donkey, you are just the ass that carried Jesus.
That also keeps me humble.