Humility, Holy Week, and The Donkeys Jesus Rode
Is it possible to be the center of attention and also humble?
I have struggled with this question throughout my entire ministry. It easy for me to justify my value – as a pastor, as a person, as a man, as a husband – based on other people’s opinion of me. I’ve known this about myself for a while; it makes ministry, writing, and standing in the pulpit each Sunday scary to me. Being in the center of attention almost always brings with it the temptation to buy my value from my students, readers, and friends.
To a prideful man like me, being the center of attention is like being a starving man in the middle of bakery. How could I not just have a little taste?
Holy Week is when we remember the steps, and sufferings of Jesus as he made his way to the cross. On Palm Sunday Jesus “went public” that he was the Messiah. He rode into Jerusalem claiming that he was worthy of all affection and attention, that he was Supreme. That announcement was the catalyst for the horrors of Good Friday. But what’s fascinating to me, and to my pride, is that in the moment Jesus demanded to be the center of attention, Jesus was also humble.
“Behold your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey.” (Matthew 5:5)
How does he do that? How can he demand to be recognized as king, but also be called humble?
It helps to understand that Matthew, in this scripture, was quoting a prophecy made in Zechariah 9:9, and that prophecy was based on the events of 2 Samuel 15-20. Zechariah’s prophecy retraced the steps David made during the rebellion led by his son, Absalom, against him. The prophecy said, in effect, “the future will look something like the past.” After Absalom fomented this rebellion, David was given a donkey to ride (2 Samuel 16:1-2) and, just like Jesus, David rode that donkey from the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem, victorious over his son as King – but also, humble.
David rode as both King and humble because in the midst of a battle where some 20,000 people were killed, Absalom escaped into the forest riding on his own beast of burden. The mule rode so fast that it ran Absalom into the crook of a great tree where he was stuck, hanging there. When he was found by David’s soldiers, they pierced him with their javelins and spears. David, on hearing the news that his rebellious child was dead, wept and said,
“Oh my son Absalom, my son my son, Absalom. Would I had died instead of you…” (2 Samuel 18:33)
David rode so humbly into Jerusalem because he was victorious, but it came at great cost. Even though he was king, His own son could not be spared. He wept, and wished he could have taken the place of his beloved son. David’s platform did not puff up his ego, because of what it cost him. Similarly, Jesus enters Jerusalem the center of attention but humble, because of what it cost him.
There are two donkeys in the story of David and Absalom, and on Palm Sunday Jesus rides them both. He comes into the city on David’s donkey as the true King, reigning in conquest over his rebellious people. But he also comes to take the place of those same rebels (us). Jesus, the Son of David, would fulfill his father’s wish. He rides Absalom’s mule into a city that would pin him to another tree, as soldiers pierced his side with javelins and spears.
Zechariah tells us that when the new King comes, he will bring salvation, but it will be a humble one. It’ll be on a donkey, not a warhorse. This king does not demand his own way; he doesn’t slaughter those who disagreed with his reign. Instead, he allows his enemies to overtake him, and through his weakness, through his humility, he conquers.
So how can we put ourselves in the center of attention, yet remain humble?
Like David, and like Jesus, we must look at what it costs for rebels like us to be raised to “his right hand in the heavenly places.” We must remember what it costs for sinners like us to be raised to whatever sphere of influence we have, since each of our platforms and leadership positions are gifts that God prepared beforehand in his grace. Humility within must begin by remembering the cost in the crucible of attention. And humility continues when people blessed with authority to continue to lay it down for the good of others.