The humility and humiliation of Jesus the Christ

The humility and humiliation of Jesus the Christ

II. Humiliation

Whereas humility describes “a modest opinion of one’s own importance”, humiliation refers to the ridiculing of others in order to destroy their self-respect. The devices used to this end are sarcasm, mockery, sneering, shaming, belittling, bullying and taunting. How did Jesus understand Himself? The Christmas announcements provide an answer:

• “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32,33).
• “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Frequently, Jesus is affirmed as the Messiah (Matthew 16:16; Luke 24:46; John 20:31; Acts 2:36; Romans 9:5); a title that He accepts (John 4:25,26). The Messiah, or the Christ, is the ideal, hoped-for Davidic king, the Anointed One.2 It is this claim—that Jesus is the Messiah—that is ridiculed and mocked throughout the trial of Jesus.

In his film The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson devotes 10 minutes of his 126 minute movie to the scene of the scourging with all its horror and brutality. This is not where the Gospels place their emphasis. In their view, it is not the physical pain that is important, but the mockery and shame He endured for us. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:12, NKJV).

The mocking began as soon as they brought Jesus before the high priest and the council (Mark 14.53–65). There is no disdain or insult more demeaning than human spittle directed at a fellow human being, and that’s where it started in the case of Jesus: “Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him” (v65). The humiliation of Jesus continued after they led Him bound to the Romans (Mark 15:1).

“They called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some [fronds] into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him” (Mark 15:16–20). Here we have barracks buffoonery of the worst kind. Every element of it, from the draped cloak and the mock crown to the spitting, beating and feigned homage, is calculated to show the mercenary troops’ total disdain of this Jewish King (Messiah).

The unrelenting abuse continued at the cross (Mark 15:29– 32). Passersby reviled Him and sneeringly asked Him to prove His claim to be able to destroy and to rebuild the temple in three days by saving Himself from the cross. In the same spirit, the religious leaders mockingly addressed Jesus in the third person: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe [in Him].” Those who were crucified with Him also taunted Him.

III. Conclusion

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus reminded the disciples that He had given them an example to follow (John 13:15). More is meant here than the washing of each other’s feet: “We know love by this, that he laid down (tithēmi) his life for us—and we ought to lay down (tithēmi) our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16). We are “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1,2, italics added).

“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8).” “Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited to his own advantage,
but he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:2–8 NRSV, adapted, italics added).

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love (Colossians 3.12, 14, italics added).”

Love and humility are twin sisters, as is clear from Paul’s famous praise of love in 1 Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful.”
In all humility let us “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2).

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