The donkey was the saddest animal in Nazareth. He hadn’t always been sad. When he was a young donkey, he had lived with his mother and several other donkeys near a market in Jerusalem. When was with his mother and his friends, he was happy and didn’t mind doing the hard work of carrying goods or people.
His mother said he was a lucky donkey because he was strong and didn’t mind hard work. She always told him hard work was the hallmark of a good donkey. He listened to his mother and believed her. Later he wondered if he would still be with her if he had ignored her advice.
One day his owner took him away from his mother and his friends, and brought him to the marketplace where animals were sold at auction. As he approached the market, he was filled with dread. He had heard stories about how very few animals who were taken to market were ever heard from again. Most of them were taken to cities around Jerusalem and very little information about them ever found its way back to the animals who lived in the country.
Once at the auction, the donkey was placed in the center of a crowd of men. He heard his owner brag about how good a donkey he was and how hard he worked. His owner said that this little donkey was worth a good amount of money. Then the men who surrounded him began to yell out amounts of money until one man shouted out a very large sum and everyone else became quiet.
The little donkey felt that he was dreaming as his owner turned him over to that man. He continued feeling very confused as that man led him out of the city to a camp where he was loaded with many goods to carry. He was very confused when the new owner called him “lazy” before he even had a chance to carry his heavy load. He was completely taken by surprise when the new owner whipped him and told him he could expect more punishment if he didn’t prove to be worth the price that had been paid for him.
Soon the donkey found himself traveling with the man to a town north of Jerusalem. It was a journey of several days, and the farther away he traveled the more he missed his mother, and the more heartsick he felt.
The little donkey had never been abused before. At first it hurt and shocked him that his new owner beat him, but later, when he realized that his owner was just mean, it made him mad.
The donkey always carried what was placed on his back even when it made his legs wobble. In spite of this, the mean owner whipped him regularly and called him “worthless.” The donkey believed the mean man enjoyed whipping him, especially because the man himself seemed to be very lazy. The donkey also witnessed his owner mistreating his wife and children and the other animals. Often, the donkey tried to show the children some affection when he was around them. But they, too, seemed to learn how to be mean from their father and they sometimes hit or kicked the donkey.
So, this is how he came to be the saddest donkey in Nazareth. He grew bitter. In spite of what his mother told him, the donkey lost any desire to work for the mean man. He started to protest the man’s abuse by kneeling down when the man approached him. He refused to cooperate when the man tried to load goods onto his back, shaking them off. This only increased the beatings, but it also increased the donkey’s stubbornness.
One day the man failed to securely tie down the load that the donkey carried. The goods on the donkey’s back fell off on the way to the little market in the town of Nazareth. The mean owner was so mad that he began to furiously beat the donkey, calling him “stupid” and “a waste of good coin.” The donkey thought he was going to be killed by the angry man and felt a surge of defiance. He just couldn’t take it anymore. He began to buck and kick his hind legs. He kicked and kicked until the mean owner stood by surprised, not knowing what to do. Whenever his owner approached him he bucked and kicked. People scattered out of the way and yelled at the owner to get him under control, but try as he might, the owner could not get close enough.
In the midst of all this commotion, a man stepped out of the crowd. The donkey stopped kicking as the man walked toward him.
“You don’t need to do that,” said the man to the mean owner, who looked as though he wanted to beat the man. The man said his name was Joseph and that he was going to market to buy a donkey. He asked the man what he had paid for the donkey. The mean owner told him a price that was actually higher than had been paid. Joseph told the man he would buy the little donkey for the same price. The mean owner said he would be glad to be rid of the lazy animal and handed the rope around the little donkey’s neck to Joseph. When Joseph had handed the man some coin, he took the little donkey away from the mean man.
As they walked the streets of Nazareth back to Joseph’s home, the good man pet the donkey and talking to him in low tones, said, “You need never fear ever being beaten again.” For the first time since leaving his mother, the little donkey felt happy. He felt even happier when they approached a small house and he saw a radiant woman waiting at the door.
She embraced Joseph, whom she obviously loved, and then turned her smiling gaze on the donkey. When the woman, whom Joseph called Mary, looked at the donkey, the pain from months of abuse just melted away. Then Joseph led him to a courtyard near a workshop and began to tie a blanket on his back. Joseph told the donkey, “We have an important journey to make and you will carry an important passenger.” He pointed to Mary, and the donkey could see that she would soon give birth to a baby.
“You will need to be very careful,” Joseph said. The donkey was nervous, but was gratified to do good work for good people again.
Soon, they were on their way. The donkey’s task was to carry Mary to a town called Bethlehem. Many other travelers passed them on the road, so they were jostled and crowded the whole way. Both he and Joseph tried to keep Mary safe, because it was clear she could give birth to her baby at any time.
The donkey wondered what he would do if the baby was born while they were traveling. But he placed his trust in Joseph to know what to do, and before long, the three of them arrived in Bethlehem.
It was nighttime and many people had arrived in Bethlehem that day, so Joseph could find no place for them to stay. On the edge of town, he knocked on the door of the last inn. No one answered. He continued to knock. No one came to the door. Mary groaned, and the donkey began to bray loudly. From an upper window, a man’s head poked out.
“We have no room!” the innkeeper shouted. Joseph explained that Mary was close to giving birth, but the man yelled, “go away!” as he slammed the window.
The donkey started to bray again and made quite a racket. The innkeeper opened the window and yelled at Joseph to make the animal stop. Joseph winked at the donkey, then told the innkeeper there was nothing he could do. He said the donkey was very stubborn and would probably continue to hee-haw until he had a place to lie down. Reluctantly, the man finally said they could stay in the stable behind his inn, if that would make the animal stop making noise and disturbing his guests.
Weary and relieved, Joseph led the donkey, still carrying Mary, into a wooden structure built onto the opening of a cave. As Joseph helped Mary off the donkey’s back, Mary said, “Joseph, I think it’s time.” Then she turned and looked the donkey in the eyes and said, “Thank you, my new friend. Without your help, we would have no safe place for my child to be born.” Joseph laid some blankets near the center of the stable and helped Mary to lie down on the soft, straw-bedded ground.
Suddenly, the donkey realized how tired he was and he looked around for a place to rest. He noticed two other donkeys standing in the corner and he walked to them. Much to his surprise he discovered one of the donkeys was his beloved mother.
As his mother rubbed her head up against his, he said, “What are you doing here, Mother?” Her eyes smiled at him and she replied, “It is a long story which will take a long time to tell. Let’s just say I am here because you were always a very lucky donkey.” They bumped heads and then turned to see that Mary had given birth to a tiny baby boy. Together, they laid down in the straw to watch this wonderful sight.