|Did Jesus steal the donkey?|
Luke 19:29-34 "[Jesus] sent two of his disciples, Saying, Go ye into the village . . . ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. . . . And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? And they said, The Lord hath need of him." (parallels in Matthew
Some Skeptics want to accuse Jesus of misapprhending the property of others here. But simply put, we may ask, if the disciples were stealing the colt on Jesus' behalf, and committing a criminal act, why did the owners let them take it?
If someone walks up to your brand new bright red Corvette, takes the keys, gets in, and starts revving up, you will certainly ask (in a less than rational tone, naturally) "Why are you taking my car?" And I very much doubt that you would be satisfied with the answer, "God needs it." If you hadn't already punched the guy's lights out, your next step would be to call the men in the white coats and the police.
Obviously, that didn't happen here -- the owners made no effort to stop what was going on, and the disciples were allowed to leave with the colt unhindered. So there is obviously more to this story.
Many Skeptics have charged that in riding the colt into Jerusalem, Jesus was intentionally trying to fulfill Zechariah 9:9. And I agree - this was a deliberate act by Jesus. (It could hardly be otherwise; not many people ride a donkey by accident.) This, and the fact that the disciples were allowed to take the colt with a minimum of fuss, strongly suggests that the owners knew what was going on and had been approached by Jesus beforehand concerning use of the colt (or, at the very least, knew who Jesus was and had no objection).
Jesus probably bought or rented the services of the animals, or else been granted permission to use them; then he told the owners, "I will send my disciples to pick up the colt. Here is how you will know them...." (Obviously, it would not be fitting for the Messiah to walk over and get the donkey himself.) Ask them why they are untying it.
It's also possible - maybe probable - that he sent Judas to arrange the whole thing; from the Gospel of John, we know that he was the group's treasurer, and we gather that it was not unusual for Jesus to send him on errands that the other disciples didn't know about.
A bit too cloak-and-dagger to be believable? Not really; judging by the accompanying tumult when Jesus rode in, it was likely that the people were to interpret this as a sign that Jesus was about to fulfill the expected Messianic role of defeating the Romans. So understandably, Jesus would want to keep the whole affair under wraps until the proper time.
Someone also suggested to me that there was no advance permission, but that the owners of the animals knew of Jesus' reputation and gladly conceded to their use on account of that. If that is so, then the divine aspect of Jesus had foreknowledge of their acceptance, and again, there is no thievery.
Or else, as Harvey notes in Jesus and the Constraints of History (123), Jesus was simply exercising what at the time was the normal right of a king, general, or "even a respected rabbi" to procure transportation for himself. The phrase 'the master needs it' would be sufficient for the loan, provided the person's authority was recognized, which Jesus' evidently was - and again, no thievery. (Harvey also notes that Jesus in this episode adhered properly to the Jewish laws concerning borrowing.)
There is not a thing that is "gratuitous" about a pre-arranged scenario like this one: if it was not pre-arranged, how did Jesus manage to get the room? Some may anachronistically appeal to the way their own relatives always have a guest room ready whether someone was coming or not, but this will not hold for a room that held a dozen or more people.
We may add, finally, that since God owns everything, how can the Son of God taking anything be stealing?