“If we were humble, nothing would change us—
neither praise nor discouragement.
If someone were to criticize us, we would not feel discouraged.
If someone were to praise us, we also would not feel proud.”
My prayer repetitions never lead to repeating thoughts. As I again prayed the Scriptures of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, I recalled the Roman triumphs I had read of in Colleen McCullough’s historical novels of ancient Rome – The First Man of Rome, The Grass Crown, and so on. In a glossary contained in The Grass Crown, Ms. McCullough writes,
“The greatest of days for the successful general was the day upon which he triumphed. ….Only the Senate could sanction it, and sometimes—though not often—unjustifiably withheld it. The triumph itself was a most imposing parade consisting of musicians, dancers, wagons filled with spoils, floats depicting scenes from the campaign, the Senate in procession, prisoners and liberated Romans, and the army. The parade began [outside the city] and followed a prescribed route thereafter… It terminated on the Capitol at the foot of the steps of the temple… The triumphing general and his lectors went into the temple and offered the god their laurels of victory, after which a triumphal feast was held….”
The entry into Jerusalem is a humble rendition of the glorious Roman triumph of New Testament times. But the important features are there: the prescribed parade route, beginning outside the city and ending at the temple; a parade of people preceding and following Jesus, who is the successful general at the end of his military campaign. The feast (the Last Supper) and sacrifice (the death of Jesus) would follow a few days later.
However no Roman general would have stood for the insulting triumph that honored Jesus. The general, worshiped by the entire city of Rome, always rode in a horse-drawn glittering chariot; he would not be seen near a humble donkey. The parade of fisherman and others touched by Jesus’ miracles were not even close to the who’s who of Rome that attended triumphs to see and be seen. Any Roman who might have seen this Jesus parade would merely have slapped their knees and laughed at this parody of a triumph.
Not laughing that day were the Jewish leaders lining the parade route and waiting in the temple. They saw the crowd of Jews who turned out to honor Jesus as king, the son of David, and they wanted the cheers of Hosanna to stop even if it meant killing Jesus.
This triumph was a curious marriage of Roman and Jewish traditions, yet one bearing Jesus’ unique mark of humility. As King of the Jews, he reached back to fulfill the symbolic imagery of Old Testament messianic prophesies; and as the future religious king of the Roman Empire, he embraced the symbolic imagery of a Roman tribute. He used sign language that both Jews and Gentiles could one day understand.
Yet Jesus seemed so matter-of-fact about people worshiping him,singing their Hosannas, while Pharisees stood nearby criticizing him. He was not swayed by either adulation or criticism, as he rode slowly and steadily toward the temple on a borrowed donkey colt.
In the truest sense, it was a triumph over pride.