Humility: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble
Thinking about humility; what an odd term in today’s world, right? How many of us can think of a moment of humility in the past? It’s not something we think about so often these days. Now, humiliation, well we’ve got our stories!
One particular moment of humiliation in my life came in the form of a first-year ‘hazing’ back in college. Now, I know hazing has been in the news over the past few years, and I’m not advocating for anything that would hurt anyone, but this memory was more loving than anything else. I was singing with a choir called the Wooster Chorus (We were, in fact, from the College of Wooster, so the name, while not the most original, made sense). We were traveling through New England during our spring break (why we chose to travel to New England in the middle of March for spring break is a little self-defeating if you ask me, but there we were).
We had a wonderful group of friends within this choir, made up of young men and women who loved to laugh and horse around, but when it came time to sing, we put on our tuxedos and formal gowns and sang sacred music that felt more like worship than a performance. I was one of four us first year male students who were the new guys on the block that year, and I loved hanging out with this group of men, especially the upperclassmen.
One day as we were in sectional rehearsals (this is when the guys break up into one room and the women into another), our upperclassmen guys told us a secret.
‘We’re going to play a great trick on the girls today!’
I was super excited to share in this joke that we were going to play on the ladies; this was going to be great!
‘Okay, what do we do?!’ The four of us first years asked with baited breath.
There was a smile on the upper classmen’s faces (I should have known something was up).
They said, ‘At this particular point in the song during rehearsal, all of us guys are going to rip open our shirts and share our bare chests! It will be hilarious!’
‘Yes!’ I thought to myself, ‘This will be hilarious’!
A few minutes later the full choir was back in rehearsal around our very professional director and the grand piano. The upper classmen giddily pushed us first years in front of them, forming the front line forces which would be the offensive bare chest barrage for the women of the choir. This was going to be great!
We started singing. I could barely contain my excitement. The point in the piece which was our cue was fast approaching. We heard the agreed upon chords…and!
The four of us first years ripped open our tuxedo shirts like chip and dale dancers, sharing our bare chests with the world. The four of us first year men…and no one else.
All the upperclassmen…including all of the women, were on the ground in tears laughing. Even our choir director was cracking up. One of them thought enough in advance to take a photo of the exact moment of glory (I still have it).
It was then that we were all mortified…humiliated beyond comprehension. It was also then, after they put their arms around us in a large embrace, that we realized we were now part of the family—a family that I still now look back on with fond memories.
Where have you experienced humility in your life? Looking back on it, was it a positive or negative experience? What does humility have to do with our lives today?
Humility is a characteristic that is all too forgotten in today’s world, often usurped by its antithesis ‘pride’.
C.S. Lewis, one of the most influential Western theologians of the 20th Century wrote in ‘Mere Christianity’:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind…
… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.
Yes, it is in pride that we are made aware of our shortcomings as broken humans. But how do we respond? Well, the Bible is actually quite clear that the remedy for a prideful life is living with humility. The prophets and psalmists remind the people of Israel over and over again of God’s compelling to humble themselves before their Creator. And it is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that he so eloquently shares the example of Christ’s humility in realizing our salvation:
Philippians 2:6-8 6 [Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.
Jesus taught about pride and humility several times. He had a good reason to; it seems that we often catch Jesus with some prideful individuals hanging around, especially as it relates to their religiosity. So in the way that only Jesus really knew how to do, he shared with the gathered onlookers at the dinner party about not only pride and humility, but also about the Kingdom of God.
What can we learn from Jesus if we are to follow his teachings? I like to think of this story as something similar to the multitude of wedding guides one can read on the internet or in magazines today. This talk in the Bible about feasts and guest got me thinking, what is the modern teaching on such occasions today? Let’s talk about weddings…
The average wedding in the US today costs around $18,000 (I know that some sites say the average is over $27,000, but the median is actually a more helpful number). So with a budget of $18,000 for a single day event, who should you invite?
Sharon Naylor, author of The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette, suggests that you then create four lists and label them “A” through “D.”
Your “A” list should include those people, beyond close family members, whom you can’t imagine getting married without, such as your college roommate and the friends you hang out with every weekend.
Aunts, uncles, cousins and high school friends you’ve stayed in touch with should make up your “B” list, while your “C” list should include coworkers, your parents’ friends and neighbors you’ve known forever.
Finally, your “D” list can tally up distant cousins, friends you’ve lost contact with and your parents’ bridge partners. As your list grows and you need to eliminate people, start with your “D” list and work your way backward. “It sounds awful, because you don’t really want to rank the people in your life, but it does work well,” Naylor says.
What is different here…hmmm. I’ll be honest, when we strip away the ridiculous budget of an American culture and take away the social media posts, I bet the suggestions of this wedding expert are pretty similar to what one would hear in Biblical Jerusalem back in the day.
So how did Jesus respond? Let’s see what we can glean.
Well, he had some practical lessons for guests:
- Do not assume you are the ‘bees knees’ of the group. There is always someone that is better, and there is always someone that is worse off.
- Assume the lowest place at the table. Honor may come to you, but no need to expect it.
11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Lessons for hosts:
- Hosting is not about expecting something in return. We should invite those on the margins; those who may never get to be invited to such a gathering in the first place.
- Your reward is in the honor that you receive through their presence. We receive honor when we offer ourselves with no expectations of reward.
14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
We can learn a lot in these quick lessons from Jesus, both practical and spiritual. We learn about how Jesus sees God’s kingdom. Yes, we know how this world works based on what we see in the media or our life experiences, but what does God have in mind? And we also learn about ourselves. As Jesus makes his way to the cross, he reminds us that no matter how much we may think we have our lives together, we are not perfect. In fact, there are plenty of people who are better and worse off than us at this very moment. Nonetheless, we are invited to a feast of life in eternity by our creator. The dinner guests may not have made your ‘A’ list, but at God’s table, all are invited.
It’s then that we are convicted of our own brokenness, as we sit next to those we once thought were less than us (or let’s be honest, people we didn’t even think about), and God still invites us all to this feast. In God’s eyes, we are all loved as we are claimed: as God’s children; uniquely and authentically made.
How utterly humiliating…and how wonderful to know that we are all invited to sit at God’s table for the feast of eternity. Thank God that our Creator does not see the world as we do, with value ascribed to individuals based on accomplishments, failures, and social standing—on pride. No, God sees us as we truly are; no better or worse than anyone else. No better or worse than the poor, crippled, blind and lame; each of us carrying our own catalogue of brokenness and failures. We are no better or worse than those we can’t imagine sharing a meal with, let alone eternity.
And in understanding our own place at God’s table, we are called to share this new table etiquette within our very lives today. We are called to share in this world with those we previously only thought of as charity cases; people we read about in the news or pass by on the street. No, these people are our beloved guests as we are now hosting on Christ’s behalf in today’s world. And they are not guests because they are subjects of charity or guilt relief; they are guests because we now understand just how expansive God’s table is, and in eternity we will not sit as host and guest, but we will all sit as guests alongside each other at God’s abundant feast.
And maybe this is the Good News in all of this talk of feasts and guest lists: It’s in this act of unconditional love that God humiliates us…and then embraces us in grace as we are reminded this is our family. God’s grace says that no matter how broken we may be, we are all invited.
When we really take this message to heart, humility should not only be something we think of as a lost characteristic of a society long ago, but it is a quality that we as followers of Christ embrace today. We live with humility. We act with humility as we approach each work day, as we encounter the other on the street, and as we sit at the table.
Thanks be to God, who reminds us of such table manners, convicts us of our brokenness, and graciously invites us to the feast which is prepared.