Monday, 18 March 2013

Humility and Strength

Lectionary readings for March 24, 2013. Palm Sunday. Luke 19:28-40, John 13:1-35; John 18:1-12, 38b-19:16  Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

This week all the readings are from Luke and John, focusing attention on the beginning of passion week. The Luke piece is what we expect on Palm Sunday-the story of the Triumphal entry. It always creates mixed up thoughts for me. On the one hand, it's a celebration, people announce Jesus, joyously shouting out their hopes for a new ruler, a new kingdom. On the other, knowing how the story ends dulls the parade's colours. It's a bit like the "new president" thing in the States. There was no way for Obama to live up to the hype. (I wonder what will happen to the excitement around the new pope?) Human leaders cannot live up to expectations. Jesus is different. Sure, he's not going to live up to crowd hopes for a political messiah, but he never claimed to be that. He is coming with something different and radical, a reign without coercion, symbolized by a king on a donkey. He comes as God's representative, a model of love, service, and truth. He comes willing, not to kill, but to die to invite people into authentic life by the giving over of their own lives to God. It's a hard message, really quite astounding, that what we hope for is something that cannot be forced. It must be found in servant hood, and may involve suffering. Jesus is a paragon of that strange and rare combination of humility and strength. It's hard to understand. It's hard enough to apply this to individuals, but almost unimaginable on the world stage, on the scale Jesus takes on..

Humility is one of the themes present in these scriptures. Jesus' washing of the disciples feet is a humble, intimate, and extremely practical example of servant leadership. Jesus expects this sort of humility from his followers, they should never consider themselves too good for any needed task. What are the equivalents to foot washing today? Doing someone else's dishes? Caring for a sick friend?

Humility, in the form of failure and humiliation, is here for Jesus' followers. When we read ourselves into these stories, it is real for us. The very crowds that cheered Jesus are the ones who turn on him and force Pilate's hand. Peter, one of those closest to Jesus, is the one who denies him 3 times. The realization that we are like them, that we can and do make similar horrible mistakes in understanding, is humbling. The season of Lent brings us to this hard place, a place where we stare our failings in the face and realize we are looking into a mirror. What we need is the ability to look away from ourselves and to see the image of Christ instead. An image of  love, forgiveness, and new life.


  1. It is so hard to let go of one's expectations - to look away from ourselves (like it's hard not to stare at a car accident?) and look to Christ. We get caught up in how things aren't the way we want them to be instead of how great they really are. Thanks for the reminders.

  2. It is good to see the new pope's focus on service to the poor and vulnerable and to the environment and his commitment to following Jesus in humble servanthood and in leading by example. In his inaugural homily, "Francis urged the faithful -- and himself -- to follow Joseph’s example of service to others. [He officially took office on the Feast of St. Joseph.]

    'Let us never forget that authentic power is service and that the pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the cross...'" [from the L.A. Times, March 19]