Ps. 131 & Luke 9:46-56
“Self-Discovery in the Wilderness (Part Six): Pride vs. Humility”

 “Self-Discovery in the Wilderness (Part Six): Pride vs. Humility

Ps. 131 & Luke 9:46-56 ~ Northwood UC ~ Palm Sunday: April 10, 2022 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  

Palm Sunday is a great day for a parade. It is a day when we wave our palm branches; when we wave our palm crosses; when we shout our hosannas and we parade through the sanctuary as we remember that original great Palm Parade led by Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a little colt. Yet there were, as theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in The Last Week remind us, two processions. There wasn’t just one procession…there were two. Before Jesus sent the disciples ahead to get the colt; before the people waved the palm branches and shouted “hosanna”, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem, there was an earlier parade that had already occurred. That parade was the Roman parade of powerful soldiers, the soldiers were riding upon war horses, they were carrying weapons….this was the first parade riding into Jerusalem.  

The reason is somewhat obvious when you think of what was happening. The Romans had paraded into the spiritual centre of Jerusalem because Rome wanted to ensure that it maintained its authority there as the Jewish people prepared to celebrate Passover. The Passover festival was all about liberation and freedom from oppression. Historically, it originated from that day in Egypt when God ‘passed over’ the Jewish households and proceeded to display power and destruction upon the oppressive Egyptians. And when Moses when to Pharoah commanding ‘let my people go!’, he did so with the God’s authority that had faithfully ‘passed over’ the Israelites and rained down death and destruction upon those who would ever enslave them. Realizing the power of God, Pharoah released the Israelites and they began their trek towards the Promised Land.  

So, when a festival about liberation and freedom is occurring, even 1300 years later, one can only imagine the concern that the Roman Empire held. Wanting to ensure their rule and power over the Israelites, the first parade was dispatched. Well in advance of Jesus’ process…and the procession of all the Jewish people, the Roman Imperial army paraded into Israel: war horses, weapons, powerful soldiers paraded in; the first parade. The entrances were fortified and all was prepared for the second parade. Jesus and all the Jewish pilgrims coming home to the Holy Land to live into God’s dream of freedom and liberation for all.  

Two parades…and two emotions that we consider today: pride and humility. It would be particularly neat and tidy for us to consider these emotions in simple terms, wouldn’t it? The pride demonstrated by the Roman Imperial Way and the humility demonstrated by the Children of Israel, whose very leaders rode on the back of a colt. Pride – a powerful soldier oppressing another group. Humility – a humble teacher upon the back of a colt teaching that the last shall be first. But as we unpack these last few emotions this morning, we find that there is much more than such a simplistic portrayal than the goodness of humility and the evil of pride.  

So, let’s spend a moment to take apart these emotions and discover that they are not as much polar-opposites as they seem at first glance. In fact, we find that each play significant roles in the living of vital and healthy lives. We begin with humility. A word study of humility is informative. The Latin ‘humilitas’ means groundedness. Humility is an openness to new learning. It includes an accurate assessment of our strengths, imperfections and opportunities for growth. Humility is a grounded awareness of who we are…and who we are not. In one of Dr. Brenee Brown’s earlier books (Dare to Lead), she sums up humility in one sentence: “I am here to get it right, not to be right.”  

The second emotion we explore is pride. And what we first discover is that pride is multi-layered. Pride is that emotion associated with the feeling of pleasure or celebration that is derived from our accomplishments and efforts. Emotional researchers denote authentic pride as positively associated with self-esteem and negatively associated with your proneness to shame. Descriptors such as accomplishment, mastery, triumph, confidence are all associated with authentic pride. Authentic pride is positively associated with self-esteem and negatively associated with shame proneness. A form of pride is hubris. Etymology is helpful here as well. The origin of the word hubris is Greek. It described a pride and ambition so great that it offended the gods and led to one's downfall. Hubris is an inflated sense of our innate abilities and is tied with the need to dominate over others rather than to achieve our own accomplishments. Hubris is a type of status that is created through aggression and intimidation. It is negatively correlated with self-esteem and positively correlated with narcissism and shame-proneness. To those who observe hubris, it looks and feels terrible to us. But to the person experiencing hubris, it feels good for they puff up and feel superior over the one being dominated.  

Emotions researchers tell us that it is important to leave behind the idea that pride is bad for us, that humility is weakness, and that hubris is a benign form of supersized pride, Pride…authentic pride can be good for us. It is an honouring of the achievements that we have accomplished and becomes a source of healthy self-esteem.  While hubris is dangerous to ourselves and others, authentic pride is an important part of our emotional health. And on the other end of the spectrum, humility is important as well. It is the key to grounded confidence and healthy relationships.  

The text that Gwen just read for us focusses our consideration on these complex emotions that are all essential in order for us to have a healthy and vital life. And as they end of the text notes, this passage occurs just as Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. This text is ‘the parade before the parade’. This is a final preparation before Jesus sets things into motion and heads to Jerusalem on this parade of faith. The context is an argument. The disciples are arguing about who is greatest…hubris?  

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” Jesus was aware of their inner thoughts. How many times have you heard sermons preaching the call to humility of the Christ follower? I know you have. I’ve heard them too, and I’ve preached them as well.  

But there is more in this text than a simple call to humility. There is also a call to pride as we humbly exercise our God-given gifts, talents and abilities. The text continues with one of the disciples responding to Jesus. 49John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” Jesus, there are these others who aren’t doing it our way…they don’t follow like we do…they don’t look like we do…they don’t sing, worship and pray as we do. And Jesus response calls us towards the honouring of all who follow His way, not necessarily OUR way. “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” And that is the balance of humility and authentic pride. Humbly following the light of the world…proudly allowing that light to shine through your living. And allowing others to do the same…not controlling them, not overpowering them, allowing their Christ light to humbly and beautifully shine.  

When Jesus entered into Jerusalem he humbly entered into the holy city with a deep sense of authentic pride. His humility was not a source of weakness; rather it was a source of strength. He allowed God’s full presence in his being to shine through. In all that he accomplished in his earthly ministry: his healing, his teaching, his breaking down of walls and building up of the Kingdom of God he allowed God’s full presence to shine through…and his humble beginnings as Joseph’s carpenter son faded away to the background. Jesus was the perfect balance between humility of the self that allows for the demonstration of authentic pride.  

I wonder if that is why the job of the Christ follower is such a challenge. For we live in such a different world. We live more so in a Roman world that allows for the invasion of a foreign land, that allows for the domination of Indigenous people, that encourages and promotes so many expressions of ‘power-over’ others. Yet the world that the Christ follower parades into on this Palm Sunday, and every day in which we are given breath, is a very different one. It is a world we are humbly called to proudly offer our authentic selves in service of God. To proudly let God’s light shine through you; to shine through your unique gifts, talents and blessings and proudly celebrate the child of God that you are as your light shines humbly into the world.  

May we wave our palm branches with pride and with humility as the Kingdom of God continues to unfold.