In his homily yesterday (Palm Sunday), Pope Francis said we should follow Jesus this week, and that the path we should follow is a humble one. On Palm Sunday we remember how Jesus came into Jerusalem as a hero. As he rode into town it was like a parade, with people laying palm branches in front of him just as they would do for a new king. But Jesus wasn’t heading for his castle and a throne. Within days he would be arrested, put through a kangaroo court, convicted of a made up charge, abandoned by his friends, stripped, beaten and then crucified. So much for the hero.
Looked at through human eyes, we know that it didn’t have to be that way. Jesus could raise people from the dead, he could walk through crowds trying to stone him; surely the petty plans of jealous leaders didn’t need to end in His death. One of the wonders of the cross is that, yes, Jesus could have come down from the cross or summoned legions of angels to help him. But he didn’t.
He didn’t because the humiliation of God was necessary in order to accomplish God’s purpose. In this most graphic, brutal and humiliating way God shows us that His way is not the way of power or success. We aren’t going to get to Heaven by fighting our way to the front of the church. We get there by offering our place to someone else. We get there by how we treat others, particularly those others who are poor and hungry, perhaps dirty and homeless.
Today is the Feast Day of St. Dismas; the first person to be canonized. Dismas was the thief crucified next to Jesus. He acknowledged that he was guilty of the crimes for which he’d been crucified, but he asked Jesus to forgive him; to take him along to Heaven. And Jesus said yes. How’s that for a lesson in humility? The very first saint was a man who lived a disreputable, criminal life; a man who (apparently) didn’t repent of his sins until just moments before his own death. And God promised him paradise.
The way of the world is not God’s way. Our struggles to “get to the top,” in life, in business, or in society are of no interest to Him whatsoever. And they are of no credit to you in God’s plan. A grubby little thief got there ahead of you. He took the humble way.