Humility Triumphs

Photography © by Andy Coan

Photography © by Andy Coan

When a conquering hero of the ancient world rode into town in triumph, it was in a regal chariot or on the back of a stately stallion.  Legions of soldiers accompanied him in the victory procession.  Triumphal arches, festooned with relief sculptures, were often erected to immortalize his valiant victory.

After driving out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead, it was time for the King of Kings to enter the Holy City.  But to do so, he rode not on the back of a warhorse, but a donkey. His companions accompanied him brandishing not swords, but palm branches. The monument to his victory, erected a week later, was not an arch, but a crucifix.

His earthly beginning was frightfully humble.  And his earthly end would be no different.  The wood of the manger prefigured the wood of the cross.

From beginning to end, the details are humiliating.  No room in the inn.  Born amidst the stench of a stable.  Hunted by Herod’s henchmen.  Growing up in a far-flung province of the Roman Empire–Galilee, the land where the country accent is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.  How was it that the high priest’s servant-girl knew that Peter was a disciple of Jesus?  His hillbilly accent gave him away (Mat 26:73).  Jesus disciples were not cultured, learned men of ability.  They were drawn from the low-life of a backwater region.

When one of his closest companions offered to betray him, he did not require millions.  Jesus’ worth was reckoned to be no more than the Old Testament “book value” for a slave–thirty pieces of silver (Ex 21:32). When he was finally handed over to the Romans, he was not given the punishment meted out to Roman citizens.  Beheading was the quick, dignified way to execute someone of any standing.  Instead Jesus was given punishments reserved only for slaves and rebellious members of subjugated peoples – flagellation and crucifixion.  These two penalties were not just about the pain, but about the humiliation.  In first century Palestine, men and women typically covered themselves from head to toe, even in the scorching heat.  A crucified man was stripped naked and put on display for all to see.

But this is not primary a story of violence and humiliation. The events of Holy Week are much more about love and humility.

That’s why on Passion Sunday we read the powerful words of Paul’s letter from the Philippians (2:6-11).  Though the Divine Word was God, dwelling in the serene heights of heavenly glory, he freely plunged to the depths of human misery, joining himself to our frail nature, entering into our turbulent world.  As if this act of humility were not enough, he further humbled himself, accepting the status of a slave.  His act of stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples (Jn 13) was a parable of his whole human existence, for this act was regarded as so undignified that not even Israelite slaves could be compelled to do it.

But that’s just it.  Jesus was not compelled to do it.  He willingly lowered himself in his birth, in his ministry, in his death.  No one took his life from him. He freely laid down his own life (Jn 10:18). Others did not have the chance to humble him; he humbled himself.

It had to be so.  The Second Adam had to undo the damage caused by the first.  What was the sin our first parents?  They disobeyed because they wanted to know what God knew, to be like God, to exalt themselves over God (Gen 3). They were bitten by the Serpent, and injected with the deadly venom of Pride.  The antidote, the anti-venom could only be humility.  The foot-washing, donkey-riding New Adam would crush the head of the deadly serpent by means of loving, humble obedience.

The first-born of many brothers lowered himself to the dust from which the First Adam has been made–indeed humility comes from the word “humus.” But God responded to his humility by exalting him far above Caesars, kings, and even Hollywood stars.  And he invites us to share his glory with him.  But first we must walk on his road to glory, the royal road of the cross.


Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for Palm Sunday (Year ABC) – Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11-54


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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