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!
Forgiveness and mercy are not well understood or practiced in our day.
It’s like the Church knows all that was going to happen in some weird way and arranged the lectionary readings for times such as we live in.
Our readings today are not different. I want to offer my own reflection on the texts for this Sunday. Our readings (leaving out the Epistle) were:
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Let’s consider our Gospel reading first. I feel like we need some context. At the beginning of Matthew 18, the disciples ask Jesus who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.
Can we just take a second and realize that the disciples just weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed?! I mean, for real. These guys had been learning from and living with Jesus day in and day out for quite awhile, watching Him heal sick people and multiply fish and bread…and then they ask dumb questions like this.
If I’m being honest, it kinda gives me comfort. If these dudes don’t get it after all this time, I don’t feel so bad about myself when I don’t “get it” at times either. But, thanks be to God He uses guys like Peter and guys like you and me.
Anyways, context is important so we need to look at it. They ask Jesus who is the greatest. Jesus, being all Jesus, tells them stories rather than give them a direct answer. He brings a child among them and tells them to be humble like a child. Then He tells them to pluck out their eyeballs and cut off their hand rather than be tempted to sin (that seems a little harsh). Then He tells the parable of the lost sheep and how to respond to those who refuse to repent. Then He gives them the authority to forgive sins.
It was a pretty serious conversation.
Now we pick up where our reading today begins. Peter, after just hearing all this, opens up his big mouth and says, “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me?”
I would have paid money to see the look on Jesus’ face when that bone-headed question came out of St. Peter’s mouth.
So Jesus, being all Jesus, tells another story. He tells a story to compare Peter’s (and our) understanding of forgiveness and mercy to the heavenly understanding of forgiveness and mercy. Do you see that?
See, our understanding of forgiveness and mercy is based on self.
What do I get out of it?
What’s in it for me?
What’s the least I have to do?
That’s all implied in Peter’s question. In effect, he’s saying, “Jesus, tell me the least I have to do.” He didn’t ask that Jesus make him humble like a child and free him from sin and fall on his face saying ‘I’m not worthy’ when Jesus gives him authority to forgive sins. No, Peter wants to know what’s the least I gotta do?
We’re exactly the same as Peter. I mean, if we’re being honest with ourselves. We’re not really interested in knowing what Jesus wants from us, not really. We just want to get by with the least we can do. We don’t really want to be humble like a child; we don’t really want to radically obey Him and be willing to give up anything (even a limb) if it meant being closer to Him; we don’t really want to know about forgiveness and mercy. If we did, we wouldn’t be like Peter or the wicked servant in the parable.
But we are.
What is Jesus saying to us then? How are we to respond?
Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is different. In the Kingdom, the King is overly kind and generous, forgiving us a debt we cannot possibly pay. In the Kingdom, we forgive as we have been forgiven. There are expectations of us if we are part of the Kingdom. He expects us to forgive as He forgives. After all, the petty things that people say to us and do to us pale in comparison to the cosmic treason we have committed against our Creator, our Lord and King!
Sirach 8:2-7 reminds us,
“Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek for healing from the Lord? Does he have no mercy toward a man like himself, and yet pray for his own sins? If he himself, being flesh, maintains wrath, will he then seek forgiveness from God? Who will make expiation for his sins? Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity, remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments. Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook ignorance.”
Who God is and what He demands of us as we follow Him aren’t always easy. But let us remember who God is!
King David reminds us in Psalm 103 that the Lord forgives iniquities and heals our diseases (vs. 3), He redeems our life from the Pit and crowns us with mercy and compassion (vs. 4), He will not always chide nor keep His anger forever (vs. 9), He does not deal with us according to our sins (vs. 10) but, in His mercy, removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (vs. 12)!
Oh Church, look upon the mercy of our great God! See how He has forgiven us in the blood of the Son! By our faith in the perfect and spotless slain Lamb of God, our sins are removed and we who were once servants who could not possibly pay the debt we owe are now called children of God; sons and daughters of the Most High!
Oh Church, let us give Him thanks and praise for His everlasting mercy! He does not deal with us according to our sins but according to His great love which He has shown to us in Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God!