A Humble Lord in a Mess of Allusions


December 20

Read Mark 11:1-26

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9)

In one of his reflections on Jesus’ royal yet humble entrance into Jerusalem, Tim Keller draws an illuminating parallel with Revelation 5:5-6: “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” John is commanded to look for the lion, but when he turns to look, he sees not the lion but the lamb. In this eleventh chapter of Mark, we are told to behold our king. When we turn to look, however, we don’t see an imposing royal figure on a blooded mount trailed by a splendid retinue of soldiers. We see, as Romano Guardini has put it, a poorly dressed man on a donkey with a coat as a saddle—a humble Lord.

We might wonder at the appropriateness of these Palm Sunday reflections in late Advent as we sidle up closer by the minute to our Christmas festivities. Still, one ancient preacher, St. John Chrysostom, heard the deep resonance of Jesus’ royal yet humble entrance to Jerusalem and his divine yet lowly entrance into our world in his incarnation and birth that first Christmas. He preached in a sermon on the so-called Triumphant Entry: “Even when He was to be born He sought not a splendid house, nor a mother rich and distinguished, but a poor woman, and one that had a carpenter as her betrothed husband; and is born in a shed and laid in a manger.” Again—a humble Lord.

I think I hear yet another resonating echo of Palm Sunday in Christmastide. For at the Christ Mass we not only wonder at the way the Lord of glory at one time made his humble way into our world; we also wonder at the way he now makes his way into our hands and onto our lips in the humble forms of bread and wine. Is it not significant that in the Eucharistic liturgy we make the words of the crowds of Jerusalem our own as we cross ourselves? Blessed + is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Pope Benedict XVI, the theologian, said it well, “Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.” John Betjeman, the poet, said it better:

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare—
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine.

Yet again—a humble Lord.

May I highlight one final resonant note—one that is perhaps of the most personal interest to each of us? That the Lord of glory would humble himself to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, or our world in a manger, or our churches in bread and wine, is one thing. But what about our sin-sick, guilt-laden and shame-weary lives? Yes, here too—especially here!—he is willing to make his humble entrance. Even here—a humble Lord.


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