The Humble Will Be Exalted

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ʺThe way of God consists, first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility. No matter how often you would ask me, I would say the same.ʺ St. Augustine.

The wise old saint has put his finger on the center of the target. He has, in this simple repetition, captured and defined the central virtue of the practical Christian life. He has revealed and distilled Christ’s teachings into their simplest, most understandable and pedestrian form. The ‘way’ of the Christian pilgrim, the way back to heaven is the way of humility. Jesus tells us this truth over and over again with his words, and shows us this truth constantly and consistently with his very life and death.

In this passage from Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus speaking to the crowds about the way of the scribes and the Pharisees. ʺThey have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do an observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example…All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called, ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.ʺ (Mt. 23:1-12)

So many of Jesus’ parables deal with this virtue of humility. ʺIf you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, give to the poor, then, come follow me.ʺ (Mt. 19: 16-20) ʺBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earthʺ (Mt. 5: 3, 5) Every one of the parables and teachings of Jesus, in one way or another, are meant to teach us the right relationship we must develop between one another and, more importantly, between ourselves and God. And every one of these teachings flies in the face of the logic and ‘teachings’ of the world.

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The world teaches us things like: ʺTake care of number one.ʺ ʺClimb the corporate ladder.ʺ ʺBreak the glass ceiling.ʺ We see these ideas played out before us every day. And far too many among us, with utilitarian practicality, will do whatever is necessary to ‘get ahead.’ Many, without knowing it, are caught up in a desperate attempt to, ʺKeep up with the Jones’.ʺ Why? Because the world is constantly bombarding us with these messages, in advertisements and in commercials of every kind, both in print and on TV, and by lionizing the lives of the rich and famous.

Christians have a different model for how to achieve success and happiness in life, the way of Jesus, the way of humility. Jesus teaches us, by his words and with his life, that humility is the virtue from which all the other virtues arise. It is humility that enables us to forgive the ourselves, and others. It is humility that enables us to see our own faults, that gives us the wisdom to see the need to change and to grow in our own moral and spiritual lives. Humility gives a proper balance to our relationships with others and with God. Jesus’ humility in the face of reality bears witness to the truth that love is a greater power than anything the world has to offer. It is humility that makes our generosity real. It is humility that makes our hospitality genuine. We can never be truly merciful without first humbly recognizing that we, too, are sinners who know the terrible weight of guilt intimately. It is humility that brings out of us a desire for true justice, because it teaches us to see all others as involved in the same struggle, that we share an equal and infinite dignity, which can only come from God. It is humility that creates in us a deep desire to treat all others as we would have them treat us. Indeed, our love can not be true, until it can be given and received in true humility.

Augustine had it right. Since humility is the way of God, therefore, it is the only way for us to come to God and to enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

ʺFather, give us the humility
Which realizes its ignorance,
Admits its mistakes,
Recognizes its needs,
Welcomes advice
And accepts rebukes.
Help us always to praise
rather than criticise,
to encourage rather than to disparage,
to build rather that to destroy
and to think of others at their best,
rather than at their worst.
In Jesus’ name we pray.ʺ Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.