Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friends in Christ, last Sunday, we considered the praxis of good habits and the process of virtue formation. And now, this Sunday, it seems that, through Sacred Scripture, God wills for us to continue along that same track…but in a particular way, it seems, with a singular focus on the virtue of humility.
Consider our Scripture text today from the Prophet Zechariah; here is his famous prophecy of the triumphant victory and glorious entrance into the holy city of the long-awaited king of Israel, wherein it is foretold: “See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” And the prophecy continues from there, proclaiming as I say the ultimate triumphant victory of the king upon his glorious return to his own city.
Of course, this prophecy should sound rather familiar to us. After all, we hear it proclaimed every year on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion at the start of Holy Week, the grand fulfillment of this prophecy when Jesus Christ Himself passes through into His holy city of Jerusalem amid those joyful songs of “Hosannah” and “Blessed is He!”
And the humility that is put on display here is found precisely in the manner by which the king enters the city: not on a chariot like a Roman Emperor – not on a magnificent stallion like some sort of Medieval king – not on an elephant like Hannibal…but on a donkey.
And then in our Gospel text today from Saint Matthew, Jesus proclaims Himself truly to be humble, totally unlike any other king or ruler with whom the people were familiar, whom the people might have been expecting. Not proud…but humble. Not ferocious and demanding…but meek, of gentle demeanor. And we, for our part, are attracted to this; we are drawn to this. And Jesus knows it and thus bids us to gather unto Him as a shepherd gathers His lambs. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened…I will give you rest…for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”
We notice that Jesus not only is the very portrait of humility, but He praises it in others, too, and in this very Gospel text, He even reveals the blessings that await the humble. The mysteries of the Kingdom of God are “hidden…from the wise and the learned,” but they are “revealed…to the little ones.” Revealed…to the humble. Why? Because “such has been [the Father’s] gracious will.”
And so…we are given the prophecy of the humility of Christ…and we see the very portrait of humility in Christ Himself…and we hear it praised by Christ, the humility in others…. Humility, therefore, is a good thing…indeed, a very good thing…a very good and important virtue.
Therefore, we reflect upon what humility is…and what it is not.
What humility is not. It is not beating yourself up; it is not letting yourself be stomped on and treated poorly like a weather-worn doormat. That is not humility. That is just low self-esteem. And many folks get this very confused. Yes, we are all of us sinners; yes, we are all of us in very desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness; yes, in our weakness (in our fallen, broken human nature), we
do bad things…. But that does not mean that we are bad people.
Humility is not saying: I am bad, I am evil, I am a monster – that is just self-loathing, just low self-esteem. But humility is saying: I do bad things, I do evil things, I do monstrous things – and that is just telling it like it is. It is calling out our actions while respecting our identity; it is hating the sin yet
loving the sinner.
What is humility? Two words: “know thyself.” If I, Father Jeff Lewis, say to you that I am a musician, a trumpet player…that is simply an acknowledgement of fact. And I might even say that compared to most other people, I am a good trumpet player. It would still be an instance of humility because, again, it is simply an acknowledgement of fact; insofar as most people do not even play the
trumpet, then yes, in point of fact, compared to most people, I am good at the trumpet.
And so, we certainly can acknowledge and even state out loud good things about ourselves, if they are in fact simple statements of fact, and at the same time still be humble. But even so, there is not much wiggle-room there before we lapse into bragging and, therefore, pride; I can say that I am
good at trumpet, but if I go around bragging about it…that is something else again; it certainly would not be humility any more.
We need to be careful, therefore. Well of course, that is what virtue formation is all about; we are striving always to calibrate and re-calibrate our actions, our behaviors, our outward expression of character, because this is the path toward sainthood. And the path toward sainthood is just another way of describing what happens when the grace of God builds upon our own human nature (and our faithful response to that grace) so as to make us more and more as Christ-like as we can possibly be
in our earthly preparation to be welcomed and received into halls of heavenly realms. To be humble, then, is to be Christ-like. And among other good things that Christ said about Himself, statements of fact: I am the Son of God…. He said that…but He certainly did not go around bragging about it.
Strive for humility. Strive, indeed, for every virtue. Strive for sainthood…. And at the end of days, may God be praised!
on Monday, July 6 at 11:13AM