Humility - an Easter Thought

The church is big on humility, and how we should be humble, and serve others. It even talks about Jesus being humble. But then, in the next breath, it sets him up as a glorious, triumphant, king - the sort of conquering hero who deserves, and gets, a big bronze statue set up in the main square of a capital city, celebrating his strength, his power, his might.

This week, I have read the ‘Easter story’ several times in each of the gospels - soaking in the imagery, letting my imagination (aided by what I know of the times and the places) run riot, and it struck me how ordinary, how humble all of the imagery is.

Reading about the ‘triumphal entry’ (as some bibles title the passage), something struck me...

The next day the great crowd that had come to the feast, hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches from the palm trees and went forth to meet him and cried out, “Hosanna, blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord, and the king of Israel!” And Jesus, having found a young ass, mounted it, just as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; see, your king comes seated on the foal of an ass.” John 12:12-15, quoting Zechariah 9:9

What struck me is that this is pure parody. It is an utterly ridiculous image. This scruffy itinerant preacher, who’d been raised the son of a village carpenter out in the back of beyond, is ‘aping’ the entry of a conquering hero into the enemy’s capital city. He’s mocking, and none too gently, human ideas of majesty. Imagine - he’s a full-grown man, and he’s riding a young donkey - his feet must be practically touching the ground on either side, and presumably the thing is making a ridiculous braying sound into the bargain. The crowd either don’t get the ‘joke’ or are going along with it - acting as they would if welcoming a conquering hero. And it’s a ‘joke’ which was anticipated hundreds of years before, by the prophet Zechariah. I wonder whether Pontius Pilate, when he arrived in Jerusalem to take over the governorship, rode in on horseback, armour gleaming, escorted by cohorts of soldiers, welcomed by city officials bowing before him? What is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem saying about that? Does Pilate (and, by extension, the whole Roman imperial ‘machine’) know he’s being mocked?

The church doesn’t get the joke; it never has - instead it has wanted, all too often, to be a successor to Rome, and to have Christ as its emperor, with all the trappings of same. So many of our hymns are about God’s glory; about triumph, kingship, and all the rest of it. We set Jesus up to be a king in the manner of a human king, all power and privilege. But God isn’t like that.

This morning, I’ve been thinking about the resurrection - as is only natural on Easter Day. After the resurrection, is Jesus obviously special? No - Mary mistakes him for the gardener; the travellers on the road to Emmaus see him as no more than a fellow-traveller; he cooks breakfast on the beach beside the Sea of Galilee; and so on.

So what is God’s glory?

Is it him coming in power, as a conquering king, with a sword, smiting his enemies in his wrath? No, I posit, it’s that image of humility - the parodic king riding upon a young donkey, his toes dragging on the ground; the ‘king’ with his crown of thorns dying the death of a rebel, a slave, upon a cross (the joke has worn pretty thin by this point) - that most humiliating of Rome’s methods of torture and execution.

God’s glory, I suggest, turns our human idea of glory and triumph on its head. God’s glory is the humiliation, the shame, of the cross. That feels wrong; it probably should - and that’s also probably why we don’t get it.

May God bless you this Easter Day.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2021