- not impeded, or slowed down; free to move, advance, or go forward.
- having few or no burdens or obligations.
- not burdened or weighed down, as with bulky or heavy objects.
Unencumbered. The word hooked my attention in the Upper Room Disciplines, when fellow pastor Paul Escamilla described Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by saying that he came “in the humblest way…disinclined to greatness but very much inclined to goodness…ready to proceed unencumbered with the work at hand.”
Unencumbered. Not impeded by selfish pride, arrogance, or the fear of rejection. Not weighed down with the freight of his own importance or wondering about his standing in the latest polls. Not burdened with concern about how foolish it would look to enter the city on the back of a donkey. Not slowed down by a need to calculate every move like a political candidate carefully framing every action to please a narrow constituency. Free to move, to go forward, to walk with a calm spirit and steady pace in the way that would lead relentlessly to the cross. Free to be obedient to the call of God on his life regardless of the consequences.
The hymn writer got it right when he said “we marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course/while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross.” Jesus began the journey to the cross unencumbered.
Where did Jesus find that? How would we find it? What would it take for me to simply be who I am and do what I am called to do “unencumbered” by that things that get in the way of that kind of faithful obedience to the call of God in my life?
The Way of Humility
When Matthew tells the Palm Sunday story, he reminds his readers of the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Look, your king is going to you, humble and riding on a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) The odd word there, of course, is “humble.” Who really wants a humble king? It sounds like an oxymoron. Would anyone vote for a “humble” candidate for President?
To be humble is to be unencumbered. It means letting go of the baggage of pride and the arrogance of power. It means unloading the burden of all the self-aggrandizing stuff that the world identifies with power.
N. T. Wright, one of our wisest New Testament scholars, describes the Palm Sunday parade as “street theater.” Jesus, entering the Holy City on a donkey, was coming from the East. There was probably another parade coming from the West. Pilate would have been coming into the city with all the pomp, pageantry and power of a king. Wright says that the contrasting parades force the question upon us:
We don’t know if Jesus timed his own mini-play, coming in from the east, to coincide with Pilate’s triumphant arrival, but people may have linked the two and would be asking themselves: Which story do we belong to? Which king do we belong to? Which is the reality, and which is the parody?
Sometimes, we are tempted to merge to two parades together, to attempt to make the way of Jesus compatible with the world’s ways of political power. Jesus resisted that temptation in the wilderness, but a lot of supposedly bible-believing people are falling for it as they merge a distorted version of Christianity with the lust for political power.
But it won’t work. The drama that begins with Jesus riding humbly on a donkey will end with him nailed to a cross. In the words of one of the Church’s earliest affirmations of faith, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)
So, the words of the traditional collect for Palm Sunday leads us to pray:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Grace and peace,