Humility gets a bad rap. For some, it requires such a denial of who they are as to seem oppressive. For others, it is so associated with a false self-deprecation as to be dishonest. And for still others, why be humble when you are as great as I am (the Pharisee in Sunday’s Gospel or other current prominent figures in the news come to mind). Regardless, humility is hard to embrace well and it stands as a character trait that is little celebrated in our culture. Then why is it so held up by Jesus?
Jesus’ very life is a life of humility. Imagine being the Son of God and willingly condescending to hang out with human beings for a lifetime – now that is humbling! Yet we do not see anywhere in the Gospels the exasperation that most of us feel when we have to spend long periods of time with people we see as beneath us – people who don’t get it like we do. He seems to embrace the relationships he has with those around him, clearly not his equals, as equals. Therein lies the humility. But why? To what end?
Jesus’ life teaches us that humility is the only way to remove the obstacles that may keep us from truly loving each other. As long as I see myself as greater than you, I can’t share freely – I can’t receive your love on the same level from which I give you my love. As Jesus humbled himself to share our life, to be one with us, may we seek to humble ourselves with others. It seems counter-intuitive in a culture that is so competitive. Yet watch what happens as we take more and more steps to take what St. Therese of Lisieux called the “little way”. It is why Francis of Assisi called his followers “lesser brothers” (friars minor). If these two powerhouses of Christian spirituality found humility to be a key, maybe we’d do well to follow.
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