Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:1, 7-14
In the Name of God, our Creator, Jesus, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer. Amen.
All catastrophes of global proportions, whether “natural” or “social” at their start, become social phenomena by their end. All world catastrophic events that are social in their origin usually arise from an individual or some group’s hubris. Let’s take the Holocaust. The hubris of Adolf Hitler and the factions that either supported his regime directly or turned a blind eye to it is the reason that approximately six million European Jews were deliberately murdered and at least five million people were made prisoners of war. Fortunately, all global social catastrophic events usually can be resolved or lessened by an individual’s or some group’s sense of humility. Let’s take the HIV/AIDS crisis. The humbleness of Dr. Paul Farmer, world-renowned infectious disease expert, humanitarian, equitable global health advocate, and co-founder of Partners in Health, saved millions of lives by his work in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and tuberculous. He believed that injustices lead to poverty and sickness, and that health is a human right – and no human is less deserving of that right than another. His work is captured in the biography, Mountains Beyond Mountains, written by Tracy Kidder. Two men, two different personas, two different outcomes. One persona led to the death of millions of people, and the other, to saving millions of lives. One was filled with hubris, and the other, with humility. The focus of our Gospel lesson today and the sermon is how to live one’s life with humility.
Let me begin by saying that neither Hitler nor Farmer acted alone in their work. The hubris of the individual became the collective hubris of the group, or in this case, the Nazi Party. The humility of the individual became the collective humility of the group, or in this case, the Partners in Health organization. Collective hubris allows people to compartmentalize what’s going on whereas collective humility sees a problem or situation and does not separate the unit from the whole. When we have a public health crisis, it’s hubris to say, “that’s not my problem,” or worse, to blame the afflicted and vulnerable because that is easier than seeing ourselves as interconnected. Paradoxically, it is no more difficult to see than it is easy to ignore. Humility is about perspective. An act of humility is to say, ‘that’s everyone’s problem,” or “how can I help with this problem?” The hubris attitude is punitive, while the humility attitude is healing. If we are followers of Jesus, and I truly believe everyone in this congregation is, we are asked to walk a life of humility and not one of hubris. When we do so, our individual actions can become collective actions. I love the Scripture verse from Micah 6:8 that says, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This short little verse is reflected beautifully in our Baptismal Covenant which we promise to follow. Let’s affirm it again.
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.”
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help (p. 305, BCP).
Well done! So how do we walk humbly with our God? I recently found an article in Forbes Magazine entitled, “Thirteen Habits of Humble People,” by Jeff Boss. Can you believe that Forbes promotes such behavior? The author begins the article by saying that “Humble people can receive a bad rap. Humility is frequently associated with being too passive, submissive or insecure…” but the opposite is true. They are confident and competent. They don’t feel the need to boast about their accomplishments but “let their actions speak for themselves… To be humble is not to think less of oneself, but to think of oneself less.” After I read this article, I asked a couple from our parish, people I would characterize as humble people, what it means to be humble. I will add that this couple are very fulfilled in their personal lives and professional careers, and I believe there is a correlation between humility and fulfillment. They shared with me three points. First, humble people want to hear as many opinions as possible and they aren’t afraid of being wrong, In fact, they may be concerned that their opinions may be wrong and so are willing to hear what others have to say. This point is supported in the article. Jeff Boss says humble people are curious, they listen, they are situationally aware, and they are not afraid to ask for help. Scripture supports these characteristics as well. Jesus was curious. When he was twelve, he was so curious about the teachings in the temple, that he stayed behind while his parents returned to Nazareth. Jesus was situationally aware. In Matthew 9:36-38, we read, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” There are many examples of Jesus’ being curious, listening to others, being situationally aware – just look at how many conversations he initiated with people that led to their healing or asked them questions about their beliefs. Beside Jesus (Philippians 2:8), only Moses is directly identified as being humble in the Bible and he is called “very humble” (Numbers 12:3). Moses was not afraid to ask God for help.
The couple’s second point is that humble people like collaboration; they like seeing the motivational benefit of everybody feeling like they own the answer. I would refer to this characteristic as being a team player. Rarely is a goal accomplished or a problem solved by an individual. Paul Farmer had the belief that everyone was entitled to good health care, but it took many people, the collective, to put his vision into play, thus we have the Partners in Health organization today. The collective humility of the group can achieve far more than the individual and conversely, the collective hubris of the group can cause more damage and destruction than the individual. Hitler did not work alone. Jeff Boss says that humble people retain relationships. Case in point, Jesus had twelve disciples and commissioned eleven of them to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus collaborated with his disciples.
The final point the couple made was that humble people may realize they are valuable, but they often underestimate their own worth. It’s not a pretense but a true modesty. Interestingly, Jeff Boss doesn’t mention modesty in his descriptive, but I agree with this couple. I have used Jesus as an example for most of these points but for this last one, I want to use the examples of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the woman with the hemorrhage. I encourage you to read Luke 1:46, The Magnificat, to get the full picture. In these nine verses, Mary acknowledges that God has looked with favor on her, but she also acknowledges her lowliness. The woman with the hemorrhage follows Jesus with the intention of touching his cloak for healing. In this act, the woman acknowledges her worthiness of healing but does not demand it. “If I only touch his cloak,” I will be made well” (Matthew 9:21).
I hope that I have shed some light on how we can live our lives with humility. I believe that humility –not hubris– is the way to fulfilment in life. Like Paul Farmer, it only takes one individual’s humility to lead to a collective humility that can save millions of lives. I am grateful to the wisdom of this couple. Thank you sharing with us how to walk humbly with God. Amen.