A famous Christian missionary in the 19th century was once asked after he travelled around the world, “Are you not concerned of your safety, you are given so much glory and honour?”
The missionary replied, “No. When the donkey headed to Jerusalem with the people’s coats spread on the ground before him, he did not claim the glory. He was not proud. He knew that the honor was given not to him but to Jesus whom he was carrying on his back. The glory, honor and fame that the world gives me do not belong to me; they are the Lord’s who works through me.”
A young music student visited the Beethoven museum to see the piano on which the great pianist, Beethoven, had composed some of his masterpieces. She came up to the museum guard and asked if she could play on the said piano. The guard agreed, so she kind of showed off by playing the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. Before she left the museum, she said to the guard, “I’m pretty sure all the great pianists who visited here wished to play on that piano.” Shaking his head, the guard said, “Padarewski (a famous Polish pianist) came here years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch that piano.”
There are many stories that leave us in awe because of a character’s inspiring humility, or lack of it. And there are many stories about humility in history that the world does not know about until the good guy in the story passes on. This is because it is the whole point of humility – the humble do not make known their good works or achievements, they just keep doing what they are doing.
In the Book of Sirach, we are reminded to, “conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God” [Sirach 3:17-18]. Such is a great demand from the Lord but it is indispensable, “for God makes low those whose hearts are lifted up, but he is a savior to the poor in spirit” [Job 22:29]. We are left without a choice but to oblige if we call ourselves ‘Christians.’
Defining what humility means sometimes leads us to a thought that completely misses the point of being humble. But before we start lifting definitions from various sources, it is perhaps practical to tag an essential adjective that is central to our faith: Christian. Unlike the definition of a general dictionary, Christian humility is never “a low view of one’s own importance.” Christian humility is knowing one’s strengths, importance, skills, gifts and resources, and using them in God’s glory. It is recognizing that one’s capability and capacity all come from God. It is admitting one’s sinfulness and putting one’s dependence on God. It is giving God the honor for His majesty. Christian humility is being able to, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” [Luke 14:13]. It is having a heart that reaches out to those who cannot repay the favor. It is the complete opposite of self-exaltation, pride, boastfulness and arrogance.
These descriptions sum up to the only person who best exemplified true humility in his entire earthly life – his name is Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, born without sin; yet he humbled himself to be one of us, sinners, to the point of an excruciating death. He gained fame for the miracles he performed; yet he never failed to refer to God. He fulfilled his ministry with brilliance; yet he gave the honor to the Father. He was the King of all kings; yet he was obedient to God’s will.
The readings this Sunday invite us to look at Jesus, how He lived His life on earth. He was 100% God, and He was 100% human as well. Like us, He experienced difficult times in His life. He was tempted, mocked, tried, persecuted and spit upon. He did not want to suffer as he begged, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” but surrendered anyway (Matthew 26:39). He felt pain and betrayal, just like you and I. But in His humility, Jesus accepted all the sufferings that came to His life according to the will of God.
Jesus as our example, may we also be willing to accept all circumstances that we encounter in our lives. As St. Faustina once said, “He who wants to learn true humility should reflect upon the Passion of Jesus.”
For the good things, elevate God and speak of His greatness. For the challenges and hardships, submit to His will and trust His plan.
After all, we are merely the ‘donkey’ in the story; it is God who does all the glorious works…
Father God, I praise and honor you for your greatness! Thank you for reminding me to live in true humility like Jesus. I am sorry for the times that I claimed glory for your works instead of referring it all to you. Please always keep me in your presence that I may never fail to put my dependence on you in all circumstances in my life. Amen.