Humility is not something that comes easily to me. Pride, however, seems to take a thousand different forms in my life. I look down on people who think or vote differently than me. I feel superior to other drivers on the beltway who are clearly not from around here. I experience an inordinate amount of pleasure when I get a trivia question correct or when someone tells me, “You’re right.” If I’m honest, I probably spent too much time writing this devotional because I want others to perceive me as insightful.
If you are like me, you may have experienced the frustrating irony of trying to be more humble. The harder I try, the less humble I become. The moment that I sense myself being humble, I start to feel good about myself. I think, “Great! I’m being humble.” But of course, what has really happened is that I have started to become self-righteous about being humble. Ironically, trying to be humble always results in pride.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes that the only way to be humble is to admire something “immeasurably superior than yourself.” When we see a beautiful work of art or a brilliant sunset, we often forget about ourselves because we are so enamored with it. Humility works the same way. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but forgetting about ourselves because we are captivated by something more glorious.
The scene here in John 12 provides a great opportunity to do just this.
As Jesus arrives into Jerusalem for Passover, a large crowd greets him, just like people in the ancient world would do for a king returning home after winning a battle. They meet him with palm branches, a symbol of victory over one’s enemies. They shout his praise, declaring him to be the king of Israel, the son of David who has come to rescue God’s people.
But Jesus’ mode of transportation is surprising for a king. Instead of riding in on a great battle horse, he comes on a young donkey. He chooses a vehicle of ordinary weakness rather than one of extraordinary strength. Yet this fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).
A king who is humble? Salvation on a donkey?
Yes, for this is precisely the glory of Jesus. He is both the Conquering King and the Good Shepherd. He is the Cosmic Creator and the Suffering Servant. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is our Judge and our Mediator. He is all-powerful, yet he became weak. He is perfectly righteous, yet he became sin. He is highly exalted, yet he humbled himself. He is infinitely rich, yet he became poor. He is untouchably holy, yet he is intimately near.
This is the path to humility – not in trying harder to be humble, but in beholding the glory of Jesus, our humble Shepherd-King.
Jeff lives in College Park and does campus ministry at the University of Maryland. Some of his favorite things in DC are kayaking around the Key Bridge, the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage, and driving on the GW Parkway.