When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Groucho Marx used to tell a great story about a nurse who just knew that she was irresistibly beautiful. Whenever she was on the ward, and had to take the pulses of male patients, she would subtract 10 beats to account for the effect she was sure she had on their heart rates. We certainly do not live in a society and country that places much value on humility. The endless encouragement toward narcissistic self-aggrandizement bears its fruit with great vigor amidst the cultural thickets of our present age. We see it in politics and entertainment with notable regularity, the news outlets often offer up examples of the kind of spoiled entitlement that eventually winds up in court, or at least the court of public opinion. We pretend to be shocked and offended by the smug self-assurances of a Martin Shkreli, or the outlandish behavior of the Irvine couple (the Easters, if you can believe it) who went to great lengths to seriously injure a fellow parent when they took offense to something she had said, but the reality is that we live in an environment that very nearly demands a kind of self promotion incompatible with genuine grace.
In fact, even the notion of humility is often equated with a kind of useless false modesty, or an even more egregious call for “lesser beings” to know their places, but at it’s root (humus) the word really evokes the image of groundedness, rather than the unctuous tugging of the forelock. I am drawn to Maya Angelou’s notion that humility is about the recognition that we stand in a stream of lives, that someone went before us and paid the way, and that our obligation is to do what we can to pay the way for those to come. The humble heart understands not that it isn’t worthy, but that it isn’t alone, it isn’t self-made, it isn’t without reference or obligation to others. It is a point made more or less regularly in scriptures of all kinds and one that Jesus attempted to make with his disciples perhaps too regularly.
Today is Ash Wednesday, not the most spiritually popular moment in our church community, but nonetheless the gateway to the Lenten season. This year we will focus our Lenten energies on certain Christian core values as we engage our worship theme, Strengthening Our Core: Exercise for the Soul. The first of these essentials is Humility, and not without reason, it is the spiritual attitude that makes all other such values even possible. Counter-intuitively Jesus taught that the more one is able to attain to humility, the greater one becomes.
Imagine the world, even the world of the Church, were the practice of humility to take genuine hold. If, in politics or economics, in the legal system, the social system, or our on-line communities, were humility to prevail, would there be perhaps less arrogance or anger or greed? What has changed in your life as a result of the practice? Or might change were you to strengthen that part of your core? As we enter the season of Lent, we aim ourselves at some consideration of the transformation manifest in the Resurrection event. We aim ourselves at the practices that can help people of faith to draw maximum value from that event, and humility is a pretty good practice with which to begin.
“Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot.”
“If there is one thing I have learned on this incredible journey we call life, it is this: the sign of a truly successful individual is humility.”