Humility describes Jesus’ behavior and is necessary in the life of discipleship. Though rarely used in the Gospel according to Matthew, the word is of great importance. In a quotation from the prophet Zechariah, Jesus is described as humble, as He is about to come into Jerusalem on what we call the Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday. “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matthew 21: 5 ESV) The king entering His city is not proud, but humble. Though not a classical pagan virtue, humility stands at the center of a Christian understanding of discipleship.
The disciple is called to humility. When the disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18: 1 ESV), Jesus responds by taking a child and putting him in the midst of His disciples, saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3-4 ESV) Where Jesus is condemning the scribes and Pharisees, He asserts that the humble will be rewarded: “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23: 11-12 ESV)
In the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that the meek will be blessed. Though another Greek word, it has a similar meaning to humble.
The humble do not compete with God, but serve Him. They are not pretentious; they do not exalt themselves. They follow Jesus’ own example of humility. He says of Himself, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11: 29 ESV) Jesus contrasts Himself to the Pharisees who “do all their deeds to be seen by others” (Matthew 23: 5 ESV) and “love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogue and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23: 6-7 ESV)
We are to present ourselves before God and our neighbors with a humility like children exhibit. In our conversations with non-believers, atheists, and secularists, we are not to act like arrogant know-it-alls. (In fact, we don’t know it all). Among other things this means that we show respect to antagonists, even when they step over the line. We are to counter their arrogance and disrespect with words of wisdom that may give them an opportunity to reconsider their behavior. Humor (not put-downs) may help. Patience to do this is very much required.
We are not to be arrogant about our humility, looking down our noses at the arrogance of others, thus becoming arrogant ourselves. Pride can boast about anything including humility. Very ironic!
We are to pray to the Lord for true humility. “Help us, Lord, to have the right attitude for the benefit of our neighbor and even our enemy.”
Michael G. Tavella
December 30, 2019