Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Mary Visits Elizabeth, Humility
Volume 7 No. 449 December 1, 2017
 
III. Featured This Week: Humility

Pride & Humility

By Dr. Tim Clinton

"For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Matthew 23:12 NIV

"…that beating taught me humility in this sense. It taught me never to think that I was better than anyone else. It taught me that on any given day, you can be beaten. This always helped push me to prepare for my bouts. A few years later, after I knocked out Joe Frazier and won the heavyweight title, I forgot that lesson in humility and again, I had to pay the price by getting beaten and embarrassed by Muhammad Ali in Zaire."
- George Foreman

Humility is a subject that great thinkers of the world take seriously. John Buchan, British diplomat and author, declared, "Without humility there can be no humanity." Solomon said, "A man's pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor" (Proverbs 29:23) and "When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2). Pride brings shame; humility wisdom. Jesus put it this way, "whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). Sounds to me like humility is a pretty serious subject. But what is authentic humility?

Four Quick Points of Authentic Humility

Humble people recognize their dependency on God

Dependency on God does not mean we shouldn't use our heads. Dependency is looking to God for direction and recognizing His ability to orchestrate the affairs of our lives—acknowledging God's role by seeking Him for direction instead of forging out on our own presumptuously. "In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:6).

Humble people are secure in who they are.

Humble people do not belittle themselves. They do not act insignificantly or inadequately because they know they are valuable just as they are, flaws and all. Therefore, there is no need to prove anything or elevate themselves. They know who they are in Christ, that they are valuable because "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). They know that there is nothing they can do that will make Him love them less and there is nothing they can do that will make Him love them more.

Humble people are interdependent.

They are aware that they do not know all the answers and that there may be others who are more intelligent, have more experience, and are more gifted. They are not independent or codependent; they are interdependent. They are team players who perceive the value of input from others. It's staggering what we can accomplish if we are humble enough to surround ourselves with the right people.

Humble people are real.

Keith Miller wrote in his book, A Hunger for Healing that, "Humility is seeing ourselves as we actually are, good and bad, strong and weak, and acting authentically on those truths." Humble people have looked in the mirror of their souls and have taken an honest inventory. They realize there will always be the need for growth and that conforming into Christ's image is a lifelong process. Humble people understand their need for grace in their own lives and therefore can give grace to others. The Apostle Paul was a great example. He knew he was a new creation in Christ, covered in His righteousness. But the same Paul who taught us that also said, "I am less than the least of all God's people" (Ephesians 3:8). Paul understood true humility. Do you?

Source: Hunger and Thirst Devotional by Dr. Tim Clinton

About The Author:

Tim Clinton, Ed. D., LPC, LMFT is President of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed in Virginia as both a Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, Tim now spends a majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He is recognized as a world leader in faith and mental health issues and has authored over 20 books including Breakthrough: When to Give In, When to Push Back.

Copyright ©2017 Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk All Rights Reserved

The Importance of Humility

by John MacArthur, Grace Community Church

"Walk . . . with all humility" (Ephesians 4:2).

Humility is fundamental to spiritual growth and blessing.

It's no secret that family problems are on the rise. Husbands and wives can't get along. Children rebel against their parents. Unfortunately, most of the proposed solutions deal only with the peripheral issues instead of the central issue, which is pride. There will never be unity or happiness in a family without humility.

Humility is not only essential in families; it is also a basic ingredient for all spiritual blessing. The book of Proverbs is rich with such teaching. "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom" (11:2). "Before honor comes humility" (15:33). "The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life" (22:4). James tells us, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (4:6). Too often we forget how important humility is.

Did you know that pride was the first sin ever committed? An angel named Lucifer tried to exalt himself above God: "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13-14). He said "I will" five times, and God said, "No, you won't" and cast him out of Heaven. Lucifer, "son of the morning," became Satan, "the accuser."

Every sin - whatever it is - has pride at its root, because all sin is defiance of God. What could be more prideful than saying, "I won't follow God's standard"? So in trying to overcome sin, we must also deal with our pride. It is impossible to be saved without humility. God isn't impressed with credentials; you must come to God and say, "I am a sinner, and I realize I am worthy of nothing." There's no other way into God's family and no other way to walk once you're there.

Though you may have read your Bible, prayed, gone to church all your life, or even founded churches, if you aren't walking in humility, you aren't walking a worthy walk. The worthy walk begins with "all humility."

Suggestions for Prayer

Consider how pride manifests itself in some areas of your life, confess those to God, and ask His forgiveness.

For Further Study

Read Luke 18:9-14. Compare the attitudes of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Which one pleased God and why?

Source: Grace to You.org

Not What You Wanted?

by Alex Crain

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?"
James 4:1

A holiday edition of the TV show "America's Funniest Home Videos" showed various children opening their presents on Christmas morning. Apparently, it's hard for many kids to see humor in getting an unwanted gift. Most of their reactions were, well… downright childish.

When the ribbons and paper were torn off, one child pulled out a new pair of socks, threw her head back and erupted in an angry sob. A matching outfit given to another child produced a tantrum across the floor followed by stomping footsteps up the stairs. Other children glowered with frowns and snarls. One even screamed at the parent holding the video camera, then hurled the unwanted gift back in his face. Not exactly the funniest home videos.

In contrast to all the immaturity and ingratitude came a bright ray of hope at the end of the montage as a little brown-haired girl in pink pajamas ecstatically jumped up and down with glee. She held in her hands a tiny chestnut and spun around to the camera exclaiming, "A nut! A nut! I got a nut! I don't know what kind it is, but I got a nut!"

James 4:1-6 says that sinful responses erupt from hearts that are controlled by overwhelming desires. They don't have to be sinful desires necessarily. The degree to which "harmless" desires become sinful is shown by what happens when things don't turn out as you hoped or expected. Whether it is irritability, or an angry tantrum or a sulking frown; sinful responses show that something in the heart has replaced God.

Notice verse 1 where James asks the question (paraphrasing), "Why are you so upset? What's the real problem in your heart?" And then he answers with divine wisdom, "I'll tell you what the matter is: it's your pleasures - your desires - that are waging war within you. And the result is sinful fights and quarrels."

Certainly, there's nothing inherently sinful about simply having desires in life. God created us to have desires. There are many good things to desire in life: having adequate food, clothing and shelter, having a happy marriage, getting a promotion at work, buying a nice car. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of desires… nothing inherently wrong, that is.

The problems come when, in our hearts, those desires turn into something else. The word translated as "lust" in verse 2 is actually "desire" with the added element of "strong craving." Epithumeo is not a word that necessarily means "lust" in the sexual sense. The idea conveyed in the original text is "you are controlled by desire." In other words, some desire - perhaps, even for a good thing - has gotten so wrapped around your heart, that it has become more important than God to you.

Whenever this happens, the result is sinful behavior. And the sin of the heart that must be confessed first in cases like this is no less than the sin of idolatry. False worship occurs whenever worship of the true God is replaced with the god of "my way."

What a peaceful contrast is painted in verse 6. God gives grace to the humble. That is, those who humbly submit their desires to God and trust Him as the sovereign provider of needs are given grace. Grace here is the desire and ability to obey God and respond in a way that pleases Him. Such recipients of grace are able, then, to deal with whatever happens - whether the present under the tree is a pair of socks, a cool skateboard, the keys to a new car, or a tiny chestnut.

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Does your situation today resemble what you expected or wanted in life? What is your response to this?

Ask God to reveal any desires seeking to control your heart so that you can humbly submit them to Him and release them to His sovereign care.

Further Reading

Isaiah 40:12

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

Four Reasons to Pursue Humility

by Mark Altrogge

Our culture constantly tells us to build our self-esteem and think highly of ourselves.

Yet the Bible urges us to do the opposite. To pursue humility. It's actually a glorious pursuit. And we have plenty of reasons to be humble. Here are a few:

We can't control anything. We like to think we are in control. We make plans, write out our lists, book our flights, mark our calendars. Yet we can't control a single thing.

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." James 4:13–15

We don't know what tomorrow will bring. We don't know what the next hour will bring. Or the next 5 minutes for that matter. One little artery in our brain could burst. We could get a phone call with news that will alter our lives permanently. I don't live in fear of the unknown, but it is humbling to contemplate our lack of control over our lives.

We are only here for a tiny blip of time. "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." This is humbling. We are nothing great. In the blink of an eye we'll be gone. We can't keep our own hearts beating or maintain our breathing. We can't keep ourselves alive. We can exercise and eat well, and that has some value, but it won't add a single hour to our lives. God has determined the number of our days.

We are limited in our self-knowledge. "Know thyself" said a philosopher. We can know a lot about ourselves, yet there is much we don't. We can't fully know our own hearts and motives. We can't fully know our own weaknesses and sins or see them as others can. Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." So often my first reaction to correction is to think the other person is wrong and that I'm right—right in my own eyes. That's why we need brothers and sisters to help us, as it says in Psalm 141:5: "Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it." It is a kindness when a brother or sister points out a sin or weakness. In our pride we are tempted to "refuse it." But a humble person receives correction because he knows he is limited in self-knowledge.

Pride has terrible consequences; humility brings blessing. Proverbs 18:12 says, "Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor." I'd rather have honor than destruction. So I must guard against pride, which is always lurking in my heart. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (JA 4:6). I don't enjoy it when people oppose me, but definitely don't want God opposing me. Really good reason to be humble. "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." (PR 11:2). Destruction, the opposition of God, disgrace—pride has serious consequences. "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (LK 14:11).

Humility will keep us from sin. A humble person knows he has fallen in the past in many ways and is capable of any sin. A humble person knows that if God doesn't deliver him from temptation and evil, he is helpless to stand against it. A humble person doesn't think that he is strong enough to expose himself to sin and not be affected, so he flees temptation. A humble person knows that God is working in him, yet he isn't perfected yet.

These are but a few of many reasons to pursue humility. May we all seek to be lowly in spirit, like the most humble man who ever walked the earth, our Savior.

About The Author:

Mark Altrogge has written hundreds of songs for worship, including "I Stand in Awe" and "I'm Forever Grateful." Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Close to the Ground - Tax Collector and The Pharisee

by William G. Carter

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

I need to warn you that this story comes only from the Gospel of Luke. Luke is fond of saying, "Everything is going to be turned upside down."

Today's story sounds kind of like this:

"Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a good person. The other was bad. The good person came away bad. The bad person came away good."

Everything gets turned upside down. You can't turn the pages of the Gospel of Luke without hearing a story like this one. Sometimes it shows up when Jesus gives a one-liner: "The first shall be last; the last shall be first." Sometimes it shows up in two one-liners, back-to-back: "Blessed are you who weep, for you will laugh." (6:21b) "Woe to you who laugh, for you will weep and mourn." (6:25b)
Can you hear the flip-flop pattern?

Sometimes it happens in a story, like the one we heard a few weeks ago. Jesus said, "Once there were two people -- one was rich, the other was poor. The rich person died and went down to torment. The poor person died and went up to Abraham's bosom" (16:19-31). That's all we know about them: one was rich, the other was poor. And in the end, there was a great reversal of fortunes.

In Luke, sometimes we will hear this in an Advent song. The mother of Jesus sang these words: "God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up those of low degree; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." (1:52-53). In church they sound like lilting lyrics, but they have the power to ignite a hundred revolutions.

Luke's consistent message is, "Thanks to Jesus Christ, everything will be turned upside down." In the final line of today's text: "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

It comes as the punch-line of the story Jesus told: "Once upon a time, two people went up to the temple to pray. One of them was a pious Pharisee. The other was a nasty tax collector." Then everything was turned upside down. By the end of their prayers, the bad person was justified with God. He was "put right." And the good religious person was . . . well, we don't know what happened to him. He slipped away off the page.

We have to wonder why. Why this great reversal? One person comes out smelling like a rose. . . and the other comes out smelling. Why? Obviously, it has nothing to do with the kind of life they lead.

After all, the Pharisee was a righteous man. Forget all those stories you've heard about the Pharisees. They were not moustache-twisting villains. No, in the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were religious heroes. They were lay people committed to keeping Jewish faith alive. They were faithful in worship, well-schooled in the scriptures, and deeply concerned about social justice. Listen: every church needs more people like that.

This man is impressive. His piety led him to fast, to abstain from food twice a week to devote himself to prayer. What's more, he tithed his income. He gave ten percent off the top to support God's work. Our office would like to know his address. We want to send him a pledge card. As someone notes, "This Pharisee is the faithful, dependable type (of person) who pays the salaries of ministers so they can preach on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector."[1] He was a good person, a righteous person.

By contrast, you have probably heard about the tax collectors of that time. They were Jewish citizens who collaborated with the Roman Empire. They collected all the imposed taxes that the Empire used to pay for the troops that occupied Jewish towns. The Empire winked and said, "Our collectors can collect as much as they want." To be a tax collector then was to be a willing participant in a system of institutionalized cruelty. Politically, he was a traitor. Socially, he was a scoundrel. Religiously, he was considered unclean. And all the Jewish people sang, "Mama, don't your babies grow up to be tax collectors." They were hated. Despised. Banned from the sanctuary of God!

So what does it mean that this tax collector "went up to the temple to pray?" What kind of person is this? Slipping in the side door, standing in the shadows, trying not to be seen, quietly beating his breast, averting his eyes, mumbling the words of Psalm 51. What kind of person is this? He may have a prayer on his lips, but his life is reprehensible. Can one little prayer get him off the hook? "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Is that sufficient to gain him forgiveness? Yes. Jesus says it is enough. That prayer is enough.

But what about the Pharisee's prayer? I don't know if you knew this, but it is taken right out of an ancient Jewish prayerbook. The prayer went something like this:

I thank you, O Lord, that you have set my portion with those who sit in
the house of instruction, and not with those who sit on street corners;
for I rise early, and they rise early, but I rise early
for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk;
for I labor and they labor, but I labor and receive a reward
and they labor and do not receive a reward;
for I run and they run; I run to the life of the world to come
and they run straight to the pit of destruction."[2]

He wants God to know that he is doing everything he can to be pure and race toward heaven. But it comes out as if he is saying, "I thank you, O Lord, that I am not like a lot of other people." He stands off by himself and says the sort of thing that many people will still say:

"I thank you, O God, that I don't live in a rundown city like that."
"I thank you that you have given me a better education than others."
"I thank you that I am not a bigot like those people."
"I thank you that, unlike others, my investments have turned out well."
"I thank you that my marriage is happy."
"I thank you for the color of skin that I received."
"I thank you that I'm not a youngster anymore."

Or more to the point, "I thank you, O God, that I'm better than that man over there." Can you imagine somebody praying like that? Especially in a church? It is intended as a prayer of thanks, but the gratitude seems to misfire. It starts to smell like superiority. And it ignores the hard truth that sooner or later, the field does tend to level out. First becomes last, last becomes first, life seesaws and may level out.

Meanwhile, the tax collector begs for mercy, because he has come to know that's the only thing he can do. The Pharisee can stand off by himself to say, "Lord, I am glad I'm not like him." But we know better. Don't we know better?

Remember Linus and Lucy? They were talking one day. Linus said, "Lucy, why are you always so anxious to criticize me?" Lucy replied, "I just think I have a knack for seeing other people's faults." Linus said, "What about your own faults?" Lucy said, "I have a knack for overlooking them."

When he writes about this parable, Eugene Peterson calls this "the tale of two sinners." He says both of them are in church. They are both there – the one who believes he belongs there, and the one who isn't so sure. Gene says, "Churches don't do a good job of screening the people who show up there," and all of us can be glad for that. If everybody here knew absolutely everything about everybody else, they would start wondering what kind of God is running the place?

I mean, really: sinners here?

Peterson says they are both sinners. One man is driven to his knees. He knows his life is a disaster. He is incapable of fixing everything that he has messed up. He still needs a job to feed his family, even though the work is questionable at best, and his neighbors hate him. He doesn't know what to say, other than "God, have mercy on me." Yep, he's a sinner.

And then there's the other one. He is so confident in his own abilities that he really doesn't need God, because he's doing it all himself. Remember his prayer?

I thank you, Lord.
I am not like the others, Lord.
I fast twice a week.
I donate a tenth of my income.

Listen to what he says: I do this, I do that. The I's have it! It's all about him, isn't it? Yep, he's a sinner, pitiful old arrogant sinner. Perhaps the most pitiful thing of all is that he doesn't know what he is. He believes he is something better, and therefore he has no need of grace.

This is the only parable that Jesus tells about church behavior. Did you know that? It is the only parable that he actually sets inside a sanctuary. His other tales are of treasures in fields, or seeds planted by a farmer, or glimpses of commerce and family life. But this parable is placed in the house of worship, with the spotlight on two very different people who show up there. The one character who is hungry for the kindness of God is the one who goes away healed. God's grace for him.

As for the other one – somebody please tell me: why is he there?

Even so, we have to be careful. The temptation for us tax collectors to say, "I thank you, Lord, that I'm not like that arrogant Pharisee." That would also be a terrible thing, because we are more alike than different. All of us! And do you see that sinner over there? Maybe it is you.

The only antidote for any of this is humility. Serious, joyful humility… humility comes from the word for "soil." We are close to the ground here.

I like the old story that my friend Charles Rice tells. He found it in The New Yorker, I think.

During a recent transit strike in New York, a young man was walking home from work through the park. It was late and he was alone. In the middle of his trek he saw someone approaching him on the path. There was, of course, a spasm of fear. He veered, the stranger veered. But since they both veered in the same direction, they bumped in passing.

A few moments later the young man realized that this could hardly have been an accident, and felt for his wallet. It was gone. Anger triumphed and he turned, caught up with the pickpocket, and demanded the wallet. The man surrendered it.

When he got home, the first thing he saw was his wallet lying on the bed. There was no way of avoiding the truth: he had mugged somebody.[3]

That could have been you - that could have been me - because we are more alike than different.

The Gospel News is what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke: "God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish." (6:35). It's a strange statement when we first hear it, because we don't think that is the way God should run the world. But that is how Jesus describes the Father: kind, even to though who don't know it; gracious, even to a world that is no friend of grace.

This is the God we glimpse in Jesus, who, in the moment he is crucified, cries out in prayer, "Father, forgive these clueless human beings." Our lives, our eternal destinies, depend on that answered prayer.

Let me say it straight: there is grace from God. Forgiving, cleansing, healing grace. It is often ignored, even by religious folk. But it is God's grace, a complete gift for those who need it most. Grace turns everything upside-down. I'll say more about that next week.

References:

[1] Fred Craddock, The Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press) p. 211.
[2] Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, p. 142
[3] Charles Rice, The Embodied Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press) pp. 130-131.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

St. Francis of Assisi's Humility

by Father Raniero Cantalamessa,
Preacher of The Pontifical Household

Objective and Subjective Humility
To prepare ourselves for Christmas in the company of St. Francis of Assisi

Last time we saw that Francis of Assisi is a living demonstration that the most useful reform of the Church is that of the way of holiness, which always consists in a courageous return to the Gospel and which must begin from oneself. In this second meditation I would like to reflect further on an aspect of the return to the Gospel, a virtue of Francis. According to Dante Alighieri, all the glory of Francis depends on his "having made himself little,"[1] namely, on his humility. However, in what did Saint Francis' proverbial humility consist?

In all the languages the Bible has gone through to reach us, namely Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English, the word "humility" has two fundamental meanings: one objective, which indicates in fact lowliness, littleness or poverty and one subjective, which indicates the feeling and recognition that one has of one's own littleness. The latter is what we understand by the virtue of humility.

When Mary says in the Magnificat: "He has regarded the humility (tapeinosis) of his handmaid," she means humility in the objective sense, not the subjective! Because of this, very appropriately the term is translated in many languages as "littleness", not as humility. Moreover, how can one think that Mary exalts her humility and attributes God's choice to it without by that fact alone destroying Mary's humility? And yet at times it has been written rashly that Mary does not recognize in herself any virtue other than that of humility, as if, in this way, she did herself a great honor, and not instead a great wrong to this virtue.

The virtue of humility has an altogether special statute: it is possessed by those who think they do not have it, and it is not possessed by those who think they have it. Jesus alone can declare himself "lowly of heart" and truly be so; this, we will see, is the unique and unrepeatable characteristic of the humility of the Man-God. Did Mary, therefore, not have the virtue of humility? She certainly did have it, and to the highest degree, but only God knew this, she did not. Precisely this, in fact, constitutes the unequaled merit, of true humility: that its perfume is received only by God, not by the one who emanates it. Saint Bernard wrote: "The true humble person wants to be regarded as vile, not proclaimed humble."[2]

Francis' humility is in this line. In this regard, The Little Flowers refer to a significant episode and, in its core, certainly historical.

"Once when Saint Francis was returning from the forest and from prayer, being on the way out of the forest, the one called Friar Masseo wanted to test how humble he was, and encountering him he said almost provocatively: "Why to you, why to you, why to you?" Saint Francis answered: "What is it that you want to say?" Friar Masseo said: "I say why does the whole world follow you, and every person seems to want to see you, to hear you, and to obey you? You are not a good looking man in body, you are not of great learning, you are not noble, why then does everyone want to follow you?" Hearing this, Saint Francis, altogether overjoyed in spirit […] turned to Friar Masseo and said: "Do you want to know why me? Do you want to know why me? Do you want to know why the whole world follows me? This I learned that the most holy eyes of God did not see among sinners any one more vile, more insufficient, or a greater sinner than me."[3]

Humility as Truth

Francis' humility has two sources of illumination, one of a theological nature and one of a Christological nature. Let us reflect on the first. We find in the Bible acts of humility that do not come from man, from the consideration of his misery or his own sin, but which have as their sole reason God and his holiness. Such is Isaiah's exclamation, "I am a man of unclean lips," in face of the sudden manifestation of the glory and holiness of God in the Temple (Isaiah 6:5 f); such, also is Peter's cry to Jesus after the miraculous catch: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8).

We are before essential humility, that of the creature who becomes conscious of himself in the presence of God. As long as a person measures himself with himself, with others or with society, he will never have the exact idea of what he is; he is lacking the measure. "What an infinite accent," wrote Kierkegaard, "falls on the I the moment it obtains God as measure!"[4] Francis had this humility in an eminent way. A saying that he repeated often was: "What a man is before God, that he is, and nothing more."[5]

The Little Flowers recount that one night Friar Leo wanted to watch from afar what Francis was doing during his night prayer in the forest of La Verna and from a distance he heard him murmur some words for a long time. The next day the Saint called him and, after having reproved him courteously for having contravened his order, revealed to him the content of his prayer:

"You know, friar sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words that you heard, my soul was shown two lights, one of information and knowledge of myself, the other of information and knowledge of the Creator. When I said: Who are you, O most sweet God of mine? Then I was in a light of contemplation, in which I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: Who am I? I was in the light of contemplation, in which I saw the sad depth of my vileness and misery?"[6]

It was what Saint Augustine asked God and which he considered the height of all wisdom: "Noverim me, noverim te. Let me know myself and let me know You; let me know myself to humble myself and let me know You to love You."[7]

Friar Leo's episode is certainly embellished, as always in The Little Flowers, but the content corresponds perfectly with the idea that Francis had of himself and of God. Proof of it is the beginning of the Canticle of creatures with the infinite distance that he puts between God, "Most High, Omnipotent, Good Lord," to whom is owed praise, glory, honor and blessing, and the miserable mortal who is not even worthy of "mentioning," that is of pronouncing his name.

In this light, which I have called theological, humility appears to us essentially as truth. "I asked myself one day," wrote Saint Teresa of Avila, "why the Lord so loves humility and suddenly there came to my mind, without any reflection on my part, that it must be because he is total Truth, and humility is truth."[8]

It is a light that does not humiliate but, on the contrary, gives immense joy and exalts. To be humble in fact does not mean to be unhappy with oneself or to recognize one's own misery, or even one's littleness. It is to look at God before oneself and to measure the abyss that separates the finite from the infinite. The more one realizes this, the more one becomes humble. Then one begins to enjoy one's own nothingness, because it is thanks to it that a face can be offered to God whose littleness and misery has fascinated the heart of the Trinity from eternity.

Angela of Foligno, a great disciple of the Poverello, whom Pope Francis has recently proclaimed Saint, exclaimed when close to death: "O nothingness unknown, O nothingness unknown. The soul cannot have a better vision in this world than to contemplate its nothingness and dwell in it as in a prison cell."[9] There is a secret in this counsel, a truth that is experienced by testing it. One then discovers that this cell really exists and that one can really enter it every time one wishes. It consists in the quiet and tranquil sentiment of being nothing before God, but a nothing loved by Him!

When one is inside the cell of this luminous prison, one no longer sees one's neighbor's defects, or they are seen in another light. One understands that it is possible, with grace and exercise, to realize what the Apostle says, which at first glance seems excessive, namely, to "consider all others better than oneself" (cf. Philippians 2:3), or at least one understands how this was possible for the saints.

To be locked in that prison is, therefore, altogether different from being locked in oneself; instead, it is to open oneself to others, to being, to the objectivity of things, the opposite of what the enemies of Christian humility have always thought. It is to close oneself to egoism, not in egoism. It is the victory over one of the evils that modern psychology also judges ruinous for the human person: narcissism. In that cell, moreover, the enemy does not come in. One day Anthony the Great had a vision; he saw in an instant all the infinite snares of the enemy spread out over the earth and, moaning, he said: "Who then will be able to avoid all these snares?" And he heard a voice answer him: "Anthony, humility!"[10]. "Nothing, writes the author of the Imitation of Christ, will succeed in puffing up one who is firmly fixed in God."[11]

Humility as Service of Love

We have talked about humility as the truth of the creature before God. Paradoxically, however, what most fills Francis' soul with wonder is not God's greatness but his humility. In the Praises of God Most High, which are handwritten by him and kept in Assisi, among God's perfections– "You are Holy, You are Strong. You are Triune and One. You are Love, Charity. You are Wisdom …" -- at a certain point Francis inserts an unheard of: "You are humility!" It is not a title put there by mistake. Francis grasped a most profound truth about God which should also fill us with wonder.

God is humility because He is love. In face of human creatures, God finds himself lacking in every capacity not only constrictive but also defensive. If human beings choose, as they have done, to reject his love, He cannot intervene with authority to impose Himself on them. He can do nothing other than respect the free choice of men. One can reject Him, eliminate Him: He will not defend Himself, He will let them do it. Or better, his way of defending himself and of defending men against their very annihilation, will be that of loving again and always, eternally. By its nature love creates dependence and dependence creates humility. So it is, also, mysteriously, in God.

Love furnishes, therefore, the key to understand God's humility: one needs little power to show off, instead one needs a lot to put oneself aside, to cancel oneself. God is this unlimited power of concealment of himself and as such He reveals himself in the Incarnation. One has the visible manifestation of God's humility by contemplating Christ who kneels before his disciples to wash their feet – and they were, we can imagine it, dirty feet -- and even more so, when, reduced to the most radical impotence on the cross, He continues to love, without ever condemning.

Francis grasped this very close connection between God's humility and the Incarnation. Here are some of his fiery words:

"Look, he humbles himself every day, as when from the royal seat he descended into the womb of the Virgin; every day He himself comes to us in humble appearance; every day He descends from the bosom of the Father on the altar in the hands of the priest."[12] "O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humiliates himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the little appearance of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and open your hearts before Him."[13]

Thus we have discovered the second reason for Francis' humility: the example of Christ. It is the same reason that Paul indicated to the Philippians when he recommended that they have the same sentiments of Christ Jesus who "humbled himself and became obedient unto death" (Philippians 2:5.8). Before Paul, it was Jesus himself who invited the disciples to imitate his humility: "Learn from me, who am gentle and humble in heart!" (Matthew 11:29).

In what thing, we could ask ourselves, does Jesus tell us to imitate his humility? In what was Jesus humble? Running through the Gospels we do not find even the most minimal admission of fault on Jesus' lips, not when he converses with men, or when he converses with the Father. This – said incidentally -- in one of the most hidden but also most convincing proofs, of the divinity of Christ and of the absolute unicity of his conscience. In no saint, in no great one in history and in no founder of religion, does one find such an innocent conscience.

All acknowledge, more or less, having committed some error or of having something to be forgiven, at least by God. Gandhi, for instance, had a very acute awareness of having on some occasions taken erroneous positions; he also had his regrets. Jesus never did. He could say addressing his adversaries: "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46). Jesus proclaims he is "Teacher and Lord" (cf. John 13:13), to be more than Abraham, than Moses, than Jonah, than Solomon. Where, then, is Jesus' humility to be able to say: "learn from me who am humble?"

Here we discover something important. Humility does not consist principally in being little -- one can be little without being humble; nor does it consist principally in feeling that oneself is little, because one can feel oneself little and be so really and this would be objectivity, but not yet humility -- without counting that feeling oneself little and insignificant could stem from an inferiority complex and lead to withdrawal into oneself and to despair, rather than to humility. Therefore humility, per se, in the most perfect degree, is not in being little, it is not in feeling that oneself is little or proclaiming oneself little. It is in making oneself little, and not out of some necessity or personal utility, but out of love, to "raise" others.

Thus was Jesus' humility; He made himself so little, in fact, to the point of "annulling" himself for us. Jesus' humility is the humility that descends from God and that has its supreme model in God, not in man. In the position in which He finds himself, God cannot "elevate himself"; nothing exists above Him. If God comes out of Himself and does something outside the Trinity, this cannot be but a lowering of himself and a making himself little; in other words, He will only be able to be humility, or as some Greek Fathers said, synkatabasis, that is, condescendence.

Saint Francis makes of "Sister Water" the symbol of humility, describing it as "useful, humble, precious and chaste." Water, in fact, never "elevates" itself, never "ascends," but always "descends," until it has reached the lowest point. Steam rises and that is why it is the traditional symbol of pride and vanity; water descends and is, therefore, the symbol of humility.

Now we know what Jesus' word means: "Learn from me who am humble." It is an invitation to make oneself little out of love, to wash, as he did, the feet of our brothers. However, in Jesus we also see the seriousness of this choice. It is not in fact about descending and making oneself little every now and then, as a king who, in his generosity, every so often deigns to come down among the people and perhaps, also, to serve them in something. Jesus makes himself "little," as "he made himself flesh," that is permanently, to the end. He chooses to belong to the category of the little ones and the humble.

This new face of humility is summarized in one word: service. One day – we read in the Gospel – the disciples discussed among themselves who was "the greatest"; then Jesus, "sat down" (so as to give greater solemnity to the lesson he was about to impart) called the Twelve to himself and said to them: "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). He who wishes to be "first" must be "last," that is, must descend, must lower himself. But then he explains immediately what he intends by the last: he must be the "servant" of all. The humility proclaimed by Jesus is, therefore, service. In Matthew's Gospel, this lesson of Jesus is corroborated with an example: "even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28).

A Humble Church

Let us draw some practical considerations on the virtue of humility in all its manifestations, whether in relations with God or in relations with men. We must not be deluded thinking we have attained humility just because the word of God has led us to discover our nothingness and has shown us that it must be translated into fraternal service. The point to which we have attained humility is seen when the initiative passes from us to others, namely when it is no longer we who recognize our defects and wrongs, but others who do so; when we are not only capable of telling ourselves the truth, but also of gladly letting others do so. Prior to acknowledging himself before Friar Matteo as the vilest of men, Francis had accepted, gladly and for a long time, to be derided, held by friends, relatives and the whole country of Assisi as being ungrateful, exalted, one who would never have done anything good in life.

The point we are at in the struggle against pride is seen, in other words, by the way we react, externally or internally, when we are contradicted, corrected, criticized or left aside. To pretend to kill one's pride by striking it oneself, without anyone intervening from outside, is like using one's arm to punish oneself: one will never do oneself harm. It is as if a doctor wished to remove a tumor from himself on his own.

When I seek to receive glory from a man for something I say or do, it is almost certain that he who is before me seeks to receive glory from me because of the way he listens and the way he responds. And thus it is that everyone seeks his own glory and no one obtains it and if, perchance, he obtains it, it is nothing but "vainglory," that is, empty glory, destined to be dissolved in smoke with death. However, the effect is equally terrible; in fact Jesus attributed the impossibility of believing to the search for one's glory. He said to the Pharisees: "How can you believe, who receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory that comes from the one God?" (John 5:44).

When we find ourselves snared again in thoughts and aspirations of human glory, we must throw into the mixture of such thoughts, as a burning torch, the word that Jesus himself used and that he left us: "I do not seek my own glory!" (John 8:50). The struggle for humility lasts the whole of life and extends to every aspect of it. Pride is able to nourish itself, be it of evil or good; in fact, as opposed to what happens with every other vice, the good, not the evil, is the preferred terrain of cultivation for this terrible "virus." The philosopher Pascal wrote wittily:

"Vanity has such deep roots in man's heart that a soldier, a servant of armies, a cook, a porter, boasts and pretends he has his admirers and the philosophers themselves desire him. And those who write against vainglory aspire to boast of having written well, and those who read them, boast of having read them; and I, who write this, nourish perhaps the same desire; and also, perhaps, those who read me."[14]

So that man "will not rise up in pride," God often fixes him to the ground with a sort of anchor; He puts beside him, as He did to Paul, a "messenger of Satan to harass him," "a thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). We do not know exactly what this "thorn in the flesh" was for the Apostle, but we know well what it is for us! Everyone who wants to follow the Lord and serve the Church has it. They are humiliating situations through which one is recalled constantly, sometimes night and day, to the harsh reality of what we are. It can be a defect, a sickness, a weakness, an impotence, which the Lord leaves us, despite all our supplications; a persistent and humiliating temptation, perhaps, in fact, a temptation of pride; a person with whom one is constrained to live and that, despite the rectitude of both parties, has the power to expose our fragility, to demolish our presumption.

However, humility is not a private virtue. There is a humility that must shine in the Church as institution and people of God. If God is humility, the Church must also be humility; if Christ served, the Church must also serve, and serve out of love. For too long the Church as a whole has represented before the world the truth of Christ, but perhaps she has not represented sufficiently the humility of Christ. Yet it is with humility, better than with any apologetics, that hostilities and prejudices are placated in her confrontations and the way is smoothed for the reception of the Gospel.

There is an episode of Manzoni's The Betrothed which contains a profound psychological and evangelical truth. Friar Christopher, having finished his novitiate, decided to ask forgiveness publicly to the parents of the man that, before he became a friar, he killed in a duel. The family aligns itself, forming a sort of Caudine Forks, so that the gesture would be the most humiliating possible for the friar and of greatest satisfaction for the family's pride. But when they saw the young friar proceed with his head bowed, kneeling before the brother of the man killed and asking for forgiveness, the arrogance fell, they were the ones who felt embarrassed and asked for pardon, so that in the end all crowded around the friar to kiss his hand and to commend themselves to his prayers.[15] These are the miracles of humility.

In the prophet Zephaniah God says: "I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord" (Zephaniah 3:12). This word is still timely and perhaps the success of the evangelization in which the Church is committed will depend on it.

Now it is I who, before ending, must remind myself of a saying that was dear to Saint Francis. He usually repeated: "Charles emperor, Orlando, Oliviero, all the paladins reported a glorious and memorable victory … However, there are now many that, only with the telling of their feat, want to receive honors and glory from other men."[16] He used this example to say that the saints practiced the virtues and that others seek glory only by recounting them.[17]

So that I will not also be of their number, I make an effort to put into practice the counsel given by an ancient desert Father, Isaac of Nineveh, to one who was constrained by the duty to speak of spiritual things, which he had not yet attained in his own life: "Speak, he said, as one who belongs to the class of disciples and not with authority, after having humiliated your soul and making yourself smaller than any of your listeners." With this spirit, Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, I have dared to speak to you of humility.

[Translation by ZENIT]

References:

1 Paradiso XI, 111.

2 St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Canticle, XVI, 10 (PL 183, 853).

3 Little Flowers, chapter X.

4 S. Kierkegaard, The Mortal Sickness, II, chapter 1, in Works, published by C. Fabro, Sansoni, Florence1972, pp. 662 f.

5 Admonitions, XIX (FF 169); cf. also St. Bonaventure, Major Legend, VI, 1 (FF 1103).

6 Considerations of the Sacred Stigmata, III (FF 1916).

7 St. Augustine, Soliloquies, I. 1, 3; II, 1, 1 (PL 32, 870.885).

8 St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, VI dim., chapter 10.

9 The Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno, Quaracchi, 1985, p. 737.

10 Apophtegmata Patrum, Antonio 7: PG 65, 77.

11 Imitation of Christ, II, chapter 10.

12 Admonitions, I (FF 144).e

13 Letter to the Whole Order (FF 221).

14 B. Pascal, Pensees, n. 150 Br.

15 A. Manzoni, The Betrothed, chapter IV.

16 Admonitions VI (FF 155).

17 Celano, Second Life, 72 (FF 1626).

Source: Zenit.org © Innovative Media Inc.  

Humility and Exaltation

by Dr. Richard C. Leonard

Gospel: Luke 14:1-14 NIV

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.

Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Let me begin by relating an experience I had many years ago. My wife was a new teacher in a high school, and being at the bottom of the faculty totem pole she was tapped to be a chaperone for one of the school dances. Naturally, I went along as her "date." We arrived as things were still being set up, and we noticed that at one end of the gym there were several sofas and stuffed armchairs in a little circle. How kind of the school, we thought, to provide a special place for the chaperones. So we went over and sat down to observe the rest of the preparations.

Just as the dance was about to start, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to face several students, all nicely dressed in tuxedos and gowns and such. "Excuse me," said the first young man, "these seats are reserved."

"But we're the chaperones," I explained.

"I'm sorry," replied the young man. "These are for the patrons."

I looked behind the students, and found they were leading a procession of a dozen or so adults, elegantly attired and looking like the "cream of the crop" of that community. It became quickly obvious that we peon faculty chaperones had trespassed into territory reserved only for the really important people - the local muckety-mucks who were the class's honored guests or who, perhaps, had shelled out cash to sponsor the dance.

The incident made me pretty angry. It was humiliating to be told we had to step down from that exalted spot where we had placed ourselves. If I had been a Christian then, I might have had a better perspective. I might have taken the whole matter less seriously. I might even have remembered that Jesus warned us about exactly this sort of thing, in our Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. For, here in Luke 14, he tells us, "when you are invited, take the lowest place. . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled."

Now, of course, my wife and I had no intention of exalting ourselves by sitting in seats reserved for others. It was an honest mistake; nobody had clued us in that only the patrons were supposed to sit there. It was only my resentment at being displaced that makes Jesus' words really applicable to the situation. The real problem was in me, not the circumstances, and I'm afraid my exit from the scene was not as gracious as it could have been.

That was "a long time ago, in a galaxy far away," but my defensive attitude of resentment at slights, real or imagined, continued to plague me till after I became a Christian and the Lord gave me the resources to begin dealing with it. And I still deal with it to some extent. I guess we all do.

This is really a question of our self-image, or how we look at ourselves. Paul, in Romans 12:3, wrote, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." He was talking about how we each understand our spiritual gifts in the life of the body of Christ, but I think we can take his words in a more general sense. As Christians we learn to look at ourselves realistically , "with sober judgment," as Paul says , and this might keep us from having those feelings I had at that high school dance.

It's not that we demean ourselves, or put ourselves down. Instead, we simply understand that we're not the big deal we thought we were. The world doesn't revolve around us, after all. As Christians we're called to a high purpose in life: to glorify God and enjoy his presence and serve him. And when God's glory is our central concern, the little slights that come our way don't have the same power to humiliate. Our high purpose doesn't make us any higher than anyone else, for it's only Jesus that we are to lift up, that others might be drawn to him.

But let me back up now and take another look at our reading from the Gospel of Luke: "When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 'When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.'"

There's really a lot here, and we'll get to it, but first let's ask: Why would anyone thrust himself into a "place of honor" that might not rightfully be his? What's going on in this grab for attention, or power, or exaltation over other people? We see it all around us, in politics, in sports and entertainment, in our workplace, in the home, and even - Lord help us - in the church. There are always those who seem to covet the highest place, in order to enjoy the recognition and esteem of other people. If we're honest we'll have to admit that it's not always somebody else who does this. It might be you or I. Well, I don't know about "you," but I sure know about "I."

What's going on here? As I said before, it's a question of what we really think of ourselves. But it works in a perverse sort of way. If we are really happy with ourselves, I doubt that we're going to make a mad dash for the place of honor. We don't need that external stamp of approval we think will be conferred by being seated in the patron's corner. We'll be content to take a lower place, even the lowest, knowing that our place in Jesus Christ is the only place that matters. We don't have to promote ourselves, because real promotion comes only from the Lord. Self-promotion always backfires.

So when we see another person climbing over us to "get to the top," or making themselves into a "big shot," or scrambling for the place of honor and attention in our group, our family, our office or some other environment, then we need to take a look at ourselves and we'll understand what's happening. That person we think has such a high opinion of himself is really filled with self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. Those motives may be well covered up, and hidden even from that person. Few people do have a really good understanding of themselves, after all. But the underlying cause of their behavior, reaching for the top of the heap, is that they're unsure of their own worth and are looking for something that will reinforce that good feeling they would like to have about themselves. When you see someone acting like a real jerk, it's not because he thinks he's better than you. It's because he really doesn't like himself.

Understanding this could make us a lot more tolerant of people, even people who try to walk all over us. When you're tempted to "cut them down to size," remember that they're hurting. The hurt that causes their behavior may be greater than your hurt as a result of their behavior.

That's true in many situations of life. I once conducted a funeral for the wife of the man who owned the town's local hardware store. A few days later I walked into the store and the owner launched into a tirade against me for something I had said about his wife during the service - actually, it was because I had mentioned that she had prayed before her death to commit her life to Christ. Her husband took this as a reflection on her character, that I thought she hadn't been "a good woman" till that time. I didn't know what to make of this, but then it came to me how much this man was hurting. He'd seen his wife through a long, wasting illness, and he was tired and depleted and lonely. I know he was lonely, because a few months later he married a widow in the community, the mother of another of my church members. I wish I had summoned the courage to go back to him and try to help him find the peace of Christ. But maybe I would have been the wrong person to try that. And anyway, I didn't want to risk another attack. I was hurting, too.

Letting our hurts control us is a formula for failure. If we look for the "place of honor," for recognition and approval from other people, to bolster our self-doubt and lack of worth and cover our hurts, we're riding for a fall. Jesus warned us not to try it, but instead to "take the lowest place" at the banquet. Then, he said, "when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

I said there was a lot here, and we would get to it, and this is as good a place as any to get to it. You see, this principle of humbling ourselves, that God might exalt us, isn't just a general principle of life. No, it's a principle of life in the kingdom of God - that "heavenly city" we were thinking of last week. Jesus' teaching is always about the kingdom of God, the inbreaking of God's sovereignty over the affairs of men.

Have you noticed how often in the Gospels Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a meal, in fact, a banquet? Think of Luke 13:29-30, for example: "People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." It's no accident that Jesus used a meal, the last supper with his disciples, to symbolize the renewing of God's covenant with his people. Giving the cup, he said, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

Next Sunday we'll sit again at the Lord's table, and eat and drink with him in the feast of the kingdom of God. Our life in Christ is a banquet, and our host is the Lord of hosts, and if we come in humility to take the lowest place, the place of service, he will come and say to us, "Friend, come up higher."

We take the "lowest place" at the banquet, the place of service and not the place of honor, because we already know our place. Our place is secure in Jesus, "our only Mediator and Advocate." We don't have anything to prove about ourselves, because he pleads for us. We are to have the mind of Christ, says Paul:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
(Philippians 2:5-11).

Indeed, when we "take the lowest place" we're only doing what Jesus did: not claiming to be equal to God and striving for glory and honor, but depending on God to bring us to that place of esteem where we understand who we are in Christ - people made in God's own image as responsible, capable and beloved creatures who don't need to prove who they are to themselves or anyone else.

But before we end I want to add a word of caution. I suggested earlier that we don't always have a good understanding of ourselves or our motives. We don't always think of ourselves "with sober judgment," as Paul says. And if we aren't careful we can appear to take to lowest place but really be doing so with an ulterior motive.

We might be trying to manipulate God into exalting us. You know that the person who says, "Well, after all I'm really a nobody around here," is often looking for you to tell them otherwise, to tell them they're really important. We may be tempted to try that with the Lord and it won't work. He doesn't respond well to manipulation. God wants to exalt us not in ourselves but in Jesus, with whom we are already "raised us up with Christ and seated . . . with him in the heavenly realms," (Ephesians 2:6) as Paul says. That's really about all the exaltation anyone could stand! Let's not try to force God's hand to make us look important, by pretending to be unimportant. We're not unimportant; by his blood Jesus has already made us "kings and priests" to God his Father (Revelation 1:5-6). There's no higher honor than being able to minister worship and service to God.

Then, we might "take the lowest place" with another ulterior motive , to avoid responsibility. Nobody asks much of someone who looks like he's at the bottom of the heap. We may be tempted to hide behind the pretense of lowliness and humility in order not to be bothered by demands from our family, our employer, our teacher, our church or some other person or group that might ask us to do something. That false humility will never lead to exaltation in Christ, for the committed Christian is always willing to say, "I can do all things in him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13).

It's never simple, is it, this Christian life of humility and exaltation? So much to think about, so much to be on guard against, lest we go astray at some critical point. "Let a man examine himself," Paul said; our motives are always suspect. No, it's never simple. But neither is it hard, for one reason: The Christian life isn't about us, it's about Christ. Staying close to Jesus is what makes this new life possible, because we live it with him.

"Take my yoke upon you," he says, "and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light"
(Matthew 11:29-30).

Malankara World Journals with the Theme: Humility

Volume 7 No 441 Oct 13, 2017
Theme: Humility, Servant Leadership

Volume 6 No 384 Nov 18 2016
Theme: Humility

Volume 6 No 379 Oct 14 2016
Theme: Pharisees - Service/Humility

Volume 6 No 365 Sep 1 2016
Theme: Humility

Volume 6 No 363 Aug 19 2016
Theme: Humility, Servant Leader

Volume 5 No 297: July 31 2015
True Greatness in God's Sight

Volume 5 No 296: July 24 2015
Humility in Christian Life

Volume 4 No 242: October 17, 2014
Theme: Humility in Christian Life

Volume 3 No 179: November 21 2013
Focus: Humility

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