Teaching the Humble His Way

By Mary Flick, CSJ

Early in the liturgical year, we begin again with the life and teachings of Jesus. Since the Christmas season ended, Jesus has been baptized and has called his disciples. Today, his teaching and preaching begins in earnest. Up on the mountain, on a grand stage, Jesus shares his seminal teaching on what his students and followers are to seek and be. As we listen to these eight beatitudes – these “be-attitudes” – we find a description of Jesus’ own attitude of being, his life’s attitude, with all its blessings.

What is the attitude, the blessing which underlies this and all of Jesus’ teachings? It is the blessing of humility. “Humility” has as its root the word “humus,” of the earth. Lowliness is built into the word. To be humble is to know who I am, a creature of God’s. Imperfect, I accept my defects and have a modest assessment of my own worth. This virtue stands in contrast to pride and is unappealing in our “Look at Me” society. To know my identity as one dependent on God for all blessings, is a life certain to gain no attention. To be poor, meek, merciful and clean of heart, to hunger for justice and peace – these are clear ways to stand apart from what is acceptable in our political, business and entertainment circles, where wealth and power are the goals.

Yet, humility is the attitude and spirit Jesus models for us throughout his public life. Later, he will teach his disciples that those who humble themselves will be exalted, that he came not to be served, but to serve. And in his final hours, he will wash his disciples’ feet.

Humility is not simply a Christian ideal. It is an essential aspect of every major religion. The prophet Zephaniah states clearly our life task: to seek the Lord, to seek justice, to seek humility. And when you do, expect to be a “remnant,” small and insignificant. But also expect to live in freedom from fear and fullness of peace.

In the second reading, Paul assures us that we, the humble, who know who we are, also know that God has chosen us. Like the One we follow, we can expect to be seen as foolish, weak and despised. But our humility is our boast and our cause for rejoicing because we are ever more like Christ.

  • Ponder
    • Which beatitude do I find most appealing?
    • Which beatitude do I most need to grow into?
  • Do
    • Offer humble service to a stranger whose path you cross this week.