Humility is a huge problem in our world today.
I should rephrase that. The lack of humility is a huge problem in our world today.
If you don’t believe me, just scroll through your social media feeds. Or, watch the news or a political speech. The lack of humility will smack you in the face. I want to be totally clear here. I lack humility in many aspects of my life as well so it’s not like you’re alone. This is part of the human condition.
Humility has never been something that has been applauded by the culture at large. Even in most ancient cultures, humility was seen as weakness. And that is what makes this week’s readings…actually, pretty much all of Jesus’ ministry as well…so hard for us.
We have a problem with humility. Let’s just all admit it and learn. We good? Okay, onward. As I began to read and reflect on the readings for this week, this word humble just jumped off the pages at me. So I’d like us to consider all four readings today and see what we can learn.
It’s interesting that we are reminded again (like last week’s readings) that God is not like us. Which brings me to something. A friend and I this week were lamenting about what we felt like was a loss of the sense of the holiness of God. We saw a picture, an artist’s rendering, of Jesus. It was like “surfer Jesus.” I mean, dude (in the picture) was all good looking with his hair blowing gently in the breeze, rocking a golden tan, a bright smile and a very well coiffed beard. It was a picture clearly designed to make you feel good about Jesus.
I want to be clear. Jesus is our friend, our elder brother and gentle and kind and tender and compassionate. But He is also God and therefore is to be given reverent worship. Even his disciples who hung out with Him and ate lunch with Him fell on their face before Him when His glory was revealed.
When we approach God, we need to remember Who we are approaching. I fear that our desire to make God approachable has reduced in our own minds the reverence required of us when we approach Him. Yes, God is loving and wants us to come to Him. But He is also terrible. His holiness is so “other” than what we are that we must approach with great humility. We need to cultivate in our own hearts, the prophet reminds us, the humility to submit to God. We need the humility to submit to His will, His law.
The promise of humility is life.
We sing with the psalmist about the ways of God that come to us only by humble submission. We beg our God to make His way known, to teach us, to guide us, to remember His compassion and His love. These are all expressions of humility and submission to our Savior. I wonder how often we reflect on the words of the Psalms we sing/chant every Sunday? This is the prayer book of the Church and has been sung or chanted for thousands of years by the people of God, both Old and New Covenant people. I don’t know about you but I love knowing every Sunday that we join in the chorus of the saints of God who have sung His praise in the words of the Psalter for thousands and thousands of years. There is a humility and joy that is to be embraced here. After all, our Psalm this week reminds us,
“He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”
The promise of humility is learning the ways of God.
In our gospel reading, Jesus teaches the religious leaders….and us. He shows us, in this pericope, that we need the humility to admit our need for a Savior. The tax collectors and prostitutes were “not holy.” The religious leaders believed they were. They were depending on their own goodness. They were “good people.”
I feel like we need to pause here for a second and ask ourselves a hard question. Are we depending on our own “goodness” to “get us to heaven?” Let me be a little more clear. I hear far too many people who claim to be Christian and/or Catholic who say that the goal of faith is to be a “good person.” That implies that we are able, out of our own goodness, to merit salvation. This is not at all what the Holy Scriptures teach us nor what the Church has ever taught. We cannot earn our salvation by our own goodness. It is impossible.
Our salvation can only come through Jesus, the Christ of God and only begotten Son. It is only by faith in Him, which is a gift of grace, that we may merit salvation. That is not to say that we should not be “good” and cooperate with the Holy Spirit and Christ is their work of redemption and sanctification in our lives. Indeed we should. But our goodness, apart from Christ, will always fall short.
In our gospel reading, the religious leaders were “good people.” The tax collectors and prostitutes knew they weren’t. Again, our goodness will not earn the grace of God. His grace is offered freely; it is our response that makes all the difference. The good believe God owes them for their goodness. The sinners humbly recognize their need and come begging for mercy, washing the feet of Jesus with their tears. The sinner’s response to God’s grace is appreciation, adoration and obedience out of the overflow of their love and gratitude.
The promise of humility is salvation.
The question I often have asked is, “Okay fine, but what exactly does humility look like?” How, we ask ourselves, are supposed to live with a humble mindset? I’m glad you asked! St. Paul tells us in our Epistle text today. I love how he starts off by tying humility to joy. Humility leads us to joy. That joy is ultimately seen in the exaltation of Christ. What does that mean, you may ask? Well, consider our text. Look at these beautiful and poignant words penned by the great apostle,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Oh brothers and sisters, we have not been left to guess at what humility looks like! We have One who has gone before us to show us the way! We have One who brings us into participation with Him in His humility if we will but look to Him and follow Him! Christ has emptied Himself, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the will of the Father. This is our example of humility! This is our example of holiness! This is our example of goodness!
And what is the result of Christ’s humility on our behalf?
He has been exalted and given the name above all names!
At His feet every knee will bow!
From every tongue will come the cry, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”
The promise of humility is the person of Christ!
Thanks be to God!
This week’s readings:
Isaiah 55:6-9 Philippians 1:20-24, 27(a)
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18 Matthew 20:1-16(a)
I feel like our society is in a really weird place right now. We have an entire generation of Americans who have decided they want to decide for themselves what is “fair” and “right” and they will throw a fit if they don’t get it. In fairness, we’ve probably always been this way, we humans. We’ve kind of always acted like we’ve known better and we’re smarter and cooler and such than those who have come before us.
I mean, Adam and Eve thought that as well, in a sense. God created them and put them in this perfect place in perfect relationship with Himself and the world He had created for them. All they had to do was live as He said. But they knew better.
For a long time I would read the parable from this week’s gospel and just be flummoxed as to how I was supposed to think about it. I mean, on the surface, it just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the guys who worked all day got screwed in this deal. And I really struggled with Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like this…”
I was like, hold on, this doesn’t seem right. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be so unfair? I mean, isn’t that what we say in our hearts? Isn’t that what Adam and Eve thought after the serpent deceived them?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Why can’t we eat from this tree?
Why am I slaving all day in the sun and only getting paid this?
I pray and “put good things in” as far as the world is concerned. I’m a good person. Why is this happening?
This doesn’t seem fair.
Who does God think He is? He owes me!
Am I the only one that thinks like this sometimes?
This parable is like that. I mean, we read it and we agree with the guys that were complaining. But the fact is that they had a deal. They had an agreement that was just and right. I find it poignant that the “landowner” says,
“What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
That hits hard, doesn’t it? Have we asked ourselves that question? When things “work out” for others and not for us, are we envious because God is generous?
Then we read the Psalm for the day and we are reminded,
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The Lord is near to all who call upon him. The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.”
We’re tempted to look at things as we want them and we think God is unkind to us. The Psalmist reminds us that, despite what we “feel,” God is indeed kind and merciful and gracious. How can that be, we ask, when things aren’t working out in a way that we think is fair?
Because God is not like us. I fear we too often put God in our human shaped box. We expect Him to be like us and He is nothing like us. The prophet Isaiah reminds us in this week’s OT reading,
“Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
He is not like us. We are not like Him.
We say we want fair.
We really don’t want fair. We want mercy. Mercy isn’t fair. Fair would be an eternity separated from God’s mercy (we call this Hell). God’s mercy is a gift that we don’t get to negotiate. Because He is the giver of the gift, it is His to give as He wills. If we’re honest, the ingratitude expressed by the workers in the parable is ours also. We want the gift of salvation but we want to negotiate the terms of that salvation.
His ways are not our ways. God gives as He wills, not as we will.
And that is a very good thing!
Thanks be to God for His great mercy toward us!