Wisdom 2:12-20; James 3:16-4:3; Psalm 54; Mark 9:30-37
Humility, meekness, lowliness, modesty of thought and demeanor, these are all virtues that are expected of Christians, but do we really know what they mean? It might be easier to begin with what they are not. None of these virtues mean that we are to be door mats, or wimps or punching bags. They are not positions of weakness or impotence, but positions of strength and power. Not OUR strength and power, but that of God. Turning the other cheek is not the action of a coward, but of one who has the moral and spiritual strength, courage and wisdom not to fight back, not to escalate the violence, not to give in to disordered passions. We have all heard of “serenity tests”, well, we all have, and will have to face “humility tests”. Our lesson from Wisdom speaks to how the fallen world likes to push our buttons to see if we really mean what we say, if, in a crisis, we really will rely on God and not retaliate in kind. “Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find how gentle he is, and make a trial of his forbearance.” Earlier it also said, “The very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.” Being a faithful Christian in this world is no way to become popular, it wasn’t in Christ’s time either, not even for him. Even the Apostles had a hard time grasping the teaching of humility. They had been arguing about which one of them was the most important – things like this make us realize that the Apostles really were just ordinary people – and Our Lord said to them, “If anyone wishes to rank first, he must remain the last one of all and the servant of all.” This turns the standard of the world on its head, upside down, inside out. To be first we must be last, to lead we must serve, to gain we must lose, to live we must die.
St. James, in our second lesson, explains some of the obstacles in the way of a life of humility and meekness. “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind…Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?.” Our first step to a humble life is to put our self out of the center of our life, to put aside selfish ambition, desire, plans, wishes and dreams, and to put God there, to desire only God’s will, for ourselves, for others and for the world. If we can do that, we will see other people differently, we will put off envy and anger, resentment and hate and gain mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love.
The next step to a humble life is to keep before us always our own sinfulness, brokenness, failure and need for God’s salvation. It is hard to be judgmental of others if we judge ourselves first. This is true lowliness. St. Paul writes about this in his letters, holding himself as the most egregious sinner of all because of his persecution of the Church, and to always take the position that everyone is better than oneself. This can actually be very liberating, like Taoiseach says, “The next time someone asks if you are stupid, say yes, it takes all the pressure off.”
True modesty is not prudishness, conventionality nor fear – but a position of confidence in one’s true value as a child of God. Confidence, but not arrogance. Confidence in our God-given, and hard won, abilities, talents and gifts. Confidence that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do, regardless of the pressure brought to bear on us to do otherwise. Confidence in the truth that our person is holy, and to be used, body mind and spirit, only as God wills.
To be meek is to be quiet and gentle. This is also not an attitude of weakness, but of trust in and reliance on God. Why storm and rage and complain, when we know that God holds us in the palm of his hand? Why lash out at others when we know that God loves them as well?
When we put it all together, a life that is humble, meek, lowly and modest lived in love and fear of God, lived in the Caim, in the heart of the Trinity, is the life of a saint. And that is what we are all called to be, that is in reality what we are, however faultily or stumblingly we do it.
At the end of the Gospel lesson Our Lord put his arms around a little child (who, according to Orthodox tradition was St. Ignatius of Antioch), and said to the Apostles, “Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes, not me, but him who sent me.” Our attitude toward everyone, an attitude that is humble, meek, lowly and modest, is that they are a child, possibly a lost and lonely child, to be welcomed for Christ’s sake. No one is our enemy, no one can be against us because we know that God is for us. No one can hurt or harm us because they are forgiven freely, without asking, as a child is forgiven because they are a child and know no better.
We are to hold ourselves as a child as well, before God, in simplicity, trust and love. Let’s not waste our time, energy, attention and resources struggling to find and keep a place in this world, we do not have a place in this world, let us, instead, strive for those virtues that are appropriate to living in the Kingdom of God, to being, as we are, children of God.
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