A young man was once making a presentation in his class and its fact was, in fact, his first time. While he was making the presentation, the professor handling the class noticed that he was holding his paper in the left hand while the right hand was loosely tucked inside his pocket. The professor saw this as an offensive sign of pride and instantly asked him to use his right hand or end the presentation. It was at this point that the young man raised the right arm that was inside his pocket and everyone saw that a quarter of it was cut off and that was obviously after an accident.
The professor seeing this came to the boy knelt down before him in the full gaze of the class and begged to be forgiven for mistaking his disability for pride. The professor’s humility was so spontaneous and touching that it brought out tears in the eyes of many of the student in the class including the disabled young man. In fact, the class ended with that humble gesture leaving the students to wonder and ponder how a professor could kneel before his student to ask for forgiveness. A lesson on humility was learnt.
There is yet another story. Many years ago, a man riding on a horse came across some soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood across a barrier without success. An army corporal who was commanding them was standing by as the men struggled and he kept giving them annoying and unproductive orders. The horse rider who was all dressed up to his face asked the corporal why he was not giving them a helping hand. The corporal replied, “I am the corporal; I give orders.” The horse rider came down from the horse, went up and stood by the soldiers and as they were lifting the heavy log of wood, he helped them to get it across the barrier.
Afterwards, the horse rider quietly mounted his horse and before moving he told the corporal, “The next time when your men need help, send for the Commander-in-Chief.” It was after he left that the corporal and his men found out that the horse rider was actually George Washington, the first American president and the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
The word humility comes from the Latin “humilitas” which indicates lowliness or being close to the earth. The root of the word is “humus” which means soil. Hence to be humble is literally seen as being down-to-earth. Humility goes with selflessness; hence anyone who is selfish would have a hard time being humble. Humility is not the same thing as self-humiliation. It is not the same thing as eye service neither is it Low self-esteem nor foolishness.
It is very disturbing that humility as a virtue is comparatively scarce in our religious creed though preacher preach it and hearers hear it very often.
Pride, on the other hand, though known as a vice is worn by many as a garb. The word of God tells us that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Viewed from the opposite direction, humility goes before honour and success. (Prov.18:12b;29:23b).
The First Reading today (Sirach 3:17-20.28-29) began with a highly instructive statement which says: “My child (son), conduct your affairs with humility (meekness), and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”. From this statement, we can see a distinction being created between humility and giving of gifts. It is actually easier to give out gifts to people; often done to receive social applause, than to be humble. True humility is farfetched though not impossible. True humility attracts love not from people (because they will prefer a giver of gifts) but from God. It is based on this that the Apostle James declared that God loves the humble but detests the proud (James 4:6).
The First Reading continued by telling us that the greater you are the more you should humble yourself so that you can find favour with God. This will readily remind us of
Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). She did not become popular in the world by her position as the foundress of Missionaries of Charity but by her compassionate work among the poor in the slums of Calcutta. It takes true humility to practice authentic charity. It is evident that in our day and age, many people would want their deeds of charity to be announced and published. It thus takes humility to obey that instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ that tells us that our almsgiving must be in secret so that our God who sees all that is done in secret will reward us (Matt.6:3-4).
In the Gospel Reading, today (Luke 14: 1.7-14) the imagery of a wedding party was used by our Lord Jesus Christ to give instruction on the theme of humility. According to the narrative, our Lord went to dine in the house of a ruler and a Pharisee on a certain Sabbath day. We were told that when he entered they (the Pharisees) were watching him. Why? They were watching him to see where he would sit. Of course, the seats were already placed hierarchically from the highest to the lowliest. He may have shocked them by going to the rear (back) to sit. This could have been more probable because they made no further comment.
It could have been from that rear (back) sit that our Lord gave his instruction on the expediency on humility after examining how they were scrambling over the seats of honor. Speaking figuratively and vividly as well he advised that one should take a lowly (back) seat on entering a marriage feast. The idea is that one could be given a higher seat in the course of the ceremony when the host comes in. It is important to indicate here that there were two different types of seats at the ceremony: the seat of honor and the seat of humility. These were open for people to choose but the host determined who sits where. From the narrative, our Lord Jesus Christ summarized humility as an act of bringing oneself low in view of a possible exaltation. This was exactly what he did in order to affect our salvation (Phil.2:5-11).
We cannot completely deal with the theme of humility without taking an active look at its opposite which is pride. Pride is remarkably the cause of various losses and failures in life. On account of pride, most people have lost both the material support and divine sustenance that were meant to be theirs. Many people have gone to hell and many are still making their way there on account of pride. It takes humility to know God and to love Him and our neighbors.
It takes humility to pray. It takes humility to let go and to let God.
It takes humility to repent from one’s sins; it takes humility to say “I am sorry”. One of the problems with our human society today is that there is the prevalence of pride but scarcity of humility.
Humility does not consist in what we profess with our lips but in what we do afterwards. That is why we can say that humility shows itself in active situations like in the story of the disabled student and the humble professor and that of George Washington. If the humility we profess is genuine it must be able to move us to action and to do so selflessly. Our Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect example of humility. He never called himself humble but his life was marked by challenging humility:
- He was born as a King but was laid in a manger (a lowly place for animals- Luke 1: 12& 16.
- He had nowhere to lay his head- Luke 9:58
- He came from Nazareth (a small insignificant town) where nothing good can be found- John 1:46.
- He took the function of slaves by washing the feet of the disciples as a sign of humility and service-John 13:4-5.
- It took humility to forgive his executioners (Luke 23:34)
- Humility was his way of life (Matt. 11:29; 20:24-28).
Humility is a garment we all need to wear. It would not only gain favors for us before God, it will also open a lot of doors for us. Humility not only makes us know our place and keep to it, it also moves us to allow others to have their respective places. We can use humility to challenge and change the lives of others. Children could learn humility from their parents, students could learn humility was their teachers, mentees could learn humility from their mentors, workers could learn humility from their bosses. When at his first appearance as the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father Pope Francis bent low and asked the world to pray for him, his act of humility was productive as it touched and changed lives.
As we launch into this new week let us bear in mind that we need to be humble in all things because we are nothing without God and the strength of pride will eventually bow and surrender to the power of humility. Humility is instructively a dependable route to success. Let us make conscious efforts to discard pride and it’s destructive seductions and make humility our mainstay.