Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 15 December 2009 19:33
The Christmas season boasts no shortage of holiday folklore. Whether it’s hanging mistletoe in doorways for good luck, the meaning behind candy canes or the miracle of the poinsettia, American culture has as many stories to tell as Santa has deliveries to make.
Even donkeys have a special secret, and for a Hillsboro man who owns four of them, at least two legends exist.
“My theory is God created the donkey with a prophetic sign of what was to happen to Jesus,” said John Wiebe, who lives at 115 S. Date.
Wiebe said he found a book that substantiates his theory about donkeys, including a legend about why donkeys bear a crucifix on their backs.
The donkey’s cross
According to the story, a poor farmer near Jerusalem owned a donkey that was too small to work. Rather than kill the animal for food, his daughter asked him to spare the animal’s life.
The father agreed and tied the animal to a tree, saying whoever wanted it could simply take it away.
Not long after, two men went to the farmer and asked if they could have the donkey because Jesus of Nazareth had a need for it. The story goes on to say that Jesus stroked the grateful animal’s head, then rode him to Jerusalem. That day is now known as Palm Sunday, which celebrates Jesus’s triumphant arrival into the city riding the animal.
The myth continues with the donkey later following Jesus to Calvary, where it is overcome with sorrow at seeing Christ on the cross.
Unable to watch the cruel sight of what was happening to the man who had been kind to the animal, the donkey turned, but didn’t leave. It was then that the shadow of the cross fell over the animal’s shoulder and back, and would stay there forever.
“There are biblical references (to support) the donkey was definitely used to help Jesus on his trip,” Wiebe said, noting Luke 19:30, Matthew 21:5 and John 12:14.
Love of animals
Wiebe, who is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church near Abilene, retired about 10 years ago as a hospital administrator in Hillsboro and Clay Center.
He and wife Caryl moved back to Hillsboro to be closer to their roots.
“I like different animals and have had goats, sheep, even llama,” he said.
At one time, Wiebe said, he raised belted white-striped cows, which were unusual because the animals actually had a white stripe around their belly.
He acquired his donkeys last May when he overheard a woman in McPherson saying she was wanting to find them a new home.
Wiebe started with three donkeys—a grown male named Pete, a female, Susie, and their one offspring.
“I was tickled to get a set like this,” he said.
Wiebe separated the parents from the baby, but didn’t want the younger one to be alone, so he found a companion in Russell. The two younger donkeys haven’t been named yet.
The older donkeys will eat grain from his hand, but he is still training the younger ones to do so.
“I guess you could say Pete and Susie are humanized,” Wiebe said. “The lady in McPherson did work with them.”
The four animals live on the family’s land southwest of Lehigh at Springfield Park, along Kansas Highway 15, where Wiebe also has cattle.
Although his donkeys don’t have a task, Wiebe said he did build a chariot last spring and envisions the four donkeys becoming active parade participants.
Susie and Pete have appeared in Hillsboro and Goessel parades this past summer, but Wiebe would like to tie the little ones behind the chariot in future events.
Wiebe has heard more than a few stories about donkeys.
Another version of why the donkey bears a cross involves Mary and Joseph and their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Wiebe said no reference has ever been made in the Bible that Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem, but that was about the only mode of transportation in those days.
The story goes that a donkey carried Mary, who was nine months pregnant at the time. It was a difficult trip over the hilly terrain.
According to legend, God honored the donkey for getting Mary and Joseph safely to Bethlehem by adorning him with a mark of the crucifix.
“These are just stories,” Wiebe said, “and there’s nothing in the Bible to substantiate them.”
Myths aside, Wiebe said he enjoys the animals. Seeing them—and their cross—every day gives him a good feeling.