Somewhere in my life I acquired a rather large ego. I’m not exactly sure when or even how. My family, including my parents and three brothers are much humbler than I. Perhaps it is because I have been the one to travel abroad, wear a uniform, live the furthest distance from home and take risks. I have always been the one to be in the school play, do public speaking, be part of a band and not be afraid to be in the spotlight.
I can’t say that I was ever publicly embarrassed. No one ever threw pie in my face and I never had to sit in one of those dunking machines while someone tried to throw a baseball and knock me in the water. It doesn’t matter what group of people I am with, I seem to adjust and fit in. I know that humility is an important virtue of being faithful but I seem to manage okay without it. Maybe I keep my guard up or I am programmed to resist being humbled at any cost. I don’t believe I am pretentious but I have been told that a little humility wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps humility is something I lack.
I believe that Jesus had a very large ego. How else could he confront persons of authority, travel from town to town and preach to large crowds? The difference, however is that Jesus had an ego with a core of humility. By humility I mean the following: First, Jesus did not limit his compassion to people he knew. He associated with everyone, regardless of the circles they ran in. His caring for others was not limited to family and friends. Second, Jesus did not care what others thought. He was not bound by pride or obsessed with success. He used whatever means he could to get his message across. Third, Jesus made a stand for peace regardless of the cost.
The people in Jesus day wanted a hero. They wanted a King, a political hero to save them from Roman rule. The reference to the house of David means they understood Jesus as royalty, like a Prince Charles. They wanted a Big Man on Campus, a General Patton, a Tom Cruise. Jesus did not perceive himself in this way. He frequently referred to himself as a humble servant and repeatedly told people not to tell about the miracles he had done. But we humans are obsessed with sensationalism and people who are bigger than life. We want a rescuer, a savior, who will come, sweep us away from our problems and make everything better.
After his triumphal entry that day, notice what happened. There was no party, no coronation banquet, no awards ceremony, no photo opportunities, no prize, no Oscar. At the end of the ride, Jesus and the disciples quietly walked away, went to Bethany and retired for the night. At the very time the crowd wanted to make him a king, Jesus slipped away into the night.
For me the Palm Sunday event is a lesson in humility. Jesus paraded among the common people of society. He was kind to the underdogs and outcasts. I often hear people ask the question, “Why should I help someone who is not going to appreciate my gift?” Or, “Why should I be compassionate to those who aren’t willing to work or give my resources to a stranger?” Jesus did not distinguish who he helped.
This past week I did a funeral service for an elderly lady in the community. Her family members were common, ordinary people without fame or stature. As far as I know she had no church. Her relatives, however, were very earthy. They made you feel at ease. They had a sense of humor and appreciated my help. I must confess that it is much easier to be around folks who don’t have great expectations than those who want a big show. It was a humbling moment for me to be of service for people who gave me so much freedom to be myself.
Have you ever done something really outlandish as a person of faith? Could you see yourself riding on a donkey, parading along an alley with people shouting, “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches? I once participated in a fashion show where the men of the church all dressed up in women’s clothing and paraded through the sanctuary. We were the entertainment for the annual Mother/Daughter banquet. I’m not sure how our program related to the gospel. I only remember we made a lot of people laugh. In any event, it was a humbling experience.
I believe Jesus wants us to let our hair down now and then so the world can see us as real human beings. Folks remember the times when we are willing to be non-traditional or stray from the norm. The rest of the time we just play the game, not rocking the boat or getting anyone upset. It’s when we dare to tamper with the sacred or be really “real” that people seem to pay the most attention.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem in a final act of triumph to make a statement. What he stood for was peace. He wanted everyone to love one another and work together as a community. It was an impossible mission because we know that even with his efforts the world has not changed its ways. Nevertheless, that didn’t keep Jesus from being an advocate for peace.
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Since the world has become so complex and overwhelming we can easily become filled with despair and hopelessness. How can the church make a difference? How can a minority of caring and loving people possibly hold things together? It truly seems like an impossible task. And the only way to meet that challenge is to live as persons of humility.
Think about the resources that Jesus and his disciples had or didn’t have. They had no home, no office, no secretary, no typewriter, no computer, no bank account, no inventory, no transportation, no investments, no formal advertising, no library, no tax dollars, no telephone, no internet, no fax, no health insurance or life insurance. What they had was humility. They were willing to love everyone, especially the disenfranchised. They did some wild and crazy things for the sake of the kingdom of God too. And, they stood for peace.
Being a follower of Jesus is not always glamorous. It’s not just delivering speeches in front of masses of people and telling them what to do. There is much more that takes place behind the scenes. It means taking on the impossible mission of keeping the world in check, minimizing evil and spreading love wherever and whenever we can. It means working together, as people of all types and ages, not running or hiding from the world but being in the middle of it. It means getting down and dirty, humbling ourselves no matter how large or small our ego may be.
But, to be persons of humility requires something more profound than just letting our hair down, advocating peace or being inclusive. Jesus illustrated it by riding a donkey that day on his way to Jerusalem. This was the Son of God entering the city that would soon see him put to death. Jesus knew that was about to happen. Riding on that donkey was a self-fulfilling prophecy which was symbolic of Jesus’ commitment and faith. It meant surrender. He surrendered himself completely into the hands of God. There was no turning back, no denial of who he was, no wrestling with other options.
There is no greater lesson of humility than surrender. For when we surrender we are saying to God that God is in total charge of our lives. We want only what God wants and nothing else. I guess you could say that the day we surrender is the day our ego becomes as clay in the potter’s hands. Its not the size of our egos that matters, its the willingness to give it away.
Copyright 2000, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.