“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Not my favorite verse in Scripture because of they way I think we tend to hear the word “humble.” I suspect a lot of people hear “get too arrogant, prideful or presumptuous – you’ll be put in your place and get what’s coming to you.” Merriam Webster defines humility as freedom from pride or arrogance. That seems a little thin; it tells us what humility is not and by implication tells us what not to do in life…but…
St. Francis of Assisi says this of humility: for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. (Admonition 19). I really like that saying – but it is more reminder than definition. I think we need to put some “meat on the bones” of the meaning of humility. Something that will guide into what to do or be.
As the Mass started, I asked you to take a moment and think of some people in your life that you consider humble, and to then consider the traits and characteristic of that person that leads you to your conclusion. What did you come up with?
If you want something short and memorable, might I suggest C. S. Lewis? He wrote: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I sat with that a while this week and came up with a list that might reflect Lewis’ thought. The list is not complete, but only a start.
- A humble person has lots to brag about, but he doesn’t boast. He or she might share accomplishments from their life, but it often has a purpose apart of self-aggrandizement. The humble person is just as interested in your accomplishments.
- A humble person can be corrected because they know that life ever operates in the sphere of learning. As my dad would say, “Every man is your better because you can learn something from them.”
- A humble person serves willingly because the motivation is knowing that the one served will be better off.
- A humble person knows the difference between being a leader and being the boss. A boss asks others to do what they themselves will not. A leader and asks people to do what is needed and sometimes hard, but not something the humble leader would not do themselves.
- A humble person will choose gentleness before strength, will act the same with the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the friend and the foe – will act with compassion and purpose.
- The humble person pursues greatness. While one might be content in many things, the humble person is not content with their own character. The humble person ever seeks greater wisdom, a deeper capacity to love, a balance, and a wholeness…or in our language – holiness.
- The humble person is in charge of their lives – even when they choose to follow, to be obedient, and take the path less desirable.
- Here’s one I think is very important. The humble person is condescending.
Did he just say, “condescending?” Yes, I did. When most people hear that word, they think of showing a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. But I am talking about the original meaning from the Latin condescendere – to come down so as to be with or to accompany or to serve.
The ultimate condescendere was Jesus being born as one of us. Coming from the Heavenly kingdom to, as St. John literally wrote, “to pitch his tent among us.” Jesus came down to serve us and to do so humbly. I think all of the characteristics of humility above – and more – apply to Jesus. In his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those 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.
There you have it. Some thoughts on humility – some from my own list – but the most important from God’s holy word. Take some time this holiday weekend and make your own list on what it means to be humble and how you plan to walk through this life in humility. You have examples in the people you brought to mind when I asked you about humble people in your life. You have the testimony of Scripture.
It begins with the way we think. What we think, becomes the words we speak. The words we speak become the actions of our lives. Those actions become our habits. Habits become character. Character becomes who we are as we stand before God. For we are that and nothing more.
This is being a good steward of your life.
So, in this life have the humility of Christ. That Christ might lift you up and say go higher my good and faithful servant.