‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! See now, your king comes to you; he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey.” The Prophet Zechariah described the advent of the future Messiah in language reminiscent of the triumphs of warrior kings. The people of Zion would gather to greet their victorious Messiah. He would drive the chariots of war from Jerusalem, banishing the bow of war. His would be a peace that would stretch from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth.
Such language does indeed proclaim the triumph of God’s saving will, but the manner of its achievement would be radically different from that of earthly powers. Humility, rather than the arrogance of pride, would be the distinguishing quality of a triumph that would redeem the world. This kingdom would be modelled on a king who would come in humility, identified with a beast of burden.
Zechariah’s proclamation of a humble Messiah challenges many of the assumptions that underpin today’s society. Where does salvation lie? Is it to be found in the power of possession and manipulation, or in the humility that claims nothing for itself, entrusting all to God? On a more personal level, how do we face up to the struggle between a self-assertive pride and the trust underpinning humility?
St Paul described this as a struggle between what he described as the spiritual and unspiritual self. “Your interests are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you.”
There was nothing vague in Paul’s understanding about what is spiritual and what is unspiritual. For Paul, a spiritual life was a life committed to the person of Christ and, as such, lived according to his values in every situation. What Paul described as the “unspiritual” self was a life lived for self and what pride can achieve. He had no doubt that such a selfless life was not beyond those who generously welcomed the Spirit of Christ into their lives. “So then, my brothers, there is no need for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If, by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body, you shall live.”
Jesus rejoiced in this triumph of humility over pride. “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
Far from condemning intellectual achievement, Jesus was pointing to a deeper wisdom of the heart, a wisdom that entrusts itself to completely to the Father’s redeeming grace. Such was the grace of Christ’s call to humility. “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We long for the love of God, and to share that love in our lives, and yet we are easily discouraged by the burden of own ingrained pride and selfishness. That burden, humbly surrendered to Christ, is lifted from our shoulders. “Yes, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”