Our Scriptures are well paired, which offers wisdom about the relationship of pride and humility.
Our Scriptures, similar to first-century Palestine, are rooted in a honor-shame culture. The ‘worth’ of a person was determined by ‘honor points’ gained through family, profession, reputation, and actions minus the ‘shame points’ gained again through family, profession, reputation, and actions. This net-worth would determine your social status, social circles, and your literal place at the table; thus, the table became a visual of the social hierarchy.
Our Scriptures caution about being overly confident in our social net-worth, our importance, and the pride that accompanies it.
According to our Sirach text, pride was not created for humans and pride is sin begun in turning from and forsaking God. Perhaps, this is because pride is the foundation of self-centeredness (Martin Luther’s definition of sin), narcissism, and the God-complex.
While in our Gospel, Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee, and more-so a leader of the Pharisees on the sabbath. We can rest assured that the host was of honorable status, as well as his gathered guests. The host and the guests are carefully watching Jesus, because although he was a profound teacher of the Torah, he was also ‘taunted’ by performing works on the sabbath and his association with the shameful tax collectors, prostitutes, and those other “sinners”.
But, Jesus was also watching them. He noticed that the guests were continually choosing seats of ‘honor’ for themselves, thus Jesus begins to teach about pride echoing Proverbs 25:6-7:
Do not put yourself forward in the King’s presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told “Come up here”
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.
Jesus is teaching the importance of humility above pride, and yet this teaching has always bothered me because it can promote a false and manipulative humility.
A colleague posted a quote from commentary, which communicates my discomfort well:
Doing the will of God for reward can be simply another form of selfishness, just as sitting at the lowest place in order to be invited to a higher one can be a self-serving manipulative strategy. There is a reward for God’s faithful servants, but the reward goes to those who serve without thought of reward.
This service, service without honor points, service without manipulative strategy, service without thought of ‘reward’ becomes evident in Jesus’ expanded teaching. The expanded teaching (para-phrased) is:
- Do not invite guests who repay you and/or elevate your own social ‘net-worth’.
- Invite and host those who can not repay you.
- Invite those who may ‘taunt’ your own reputation such as the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and essentially therefore the most vulnerable.
Jesus encourages not a false and manipulative humility that is self-serving, but a genuine humility. And remember:
“Be like Jesus, spend enough time with sinners that it ruins your reputation”.
C.S. Lewis has a great quote about genuine humility, which is:
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
This C.S. Lewis quote reminds me of my time at King’s Island yesterday (Aug. 31).
I spent the day at King’s Island with my friend and her daughter, who has not yet learned that the world does not revolve around her. We begun the day riding the rides she wanted to, eating what she wanted to, and it being in the order she wanted to do it.
At one point, I rode the “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” (scrambler) alone because either my friend or her daughter does the relatively low to the ground, spin you around rides.
Then, we stood in line for the “Backlot Stunt” roller coaster. It was a mild roller coaster that stayed low to the ground and relatively right side up, but with speed. My friend loves roller coasters and had not yet ridden it. Her daughter has been on several roller coasters, including “The Beast” earlier in the summer, but those 45-60 minutes in line she was continually grabbing her mother’s hand saying “I am NOT going on it” and “you cannot make me”.
While we were in line, after my friend had shifted for attempting to bargain with her to simple pleading, I told her daughter “you should be happy I am not your mother because I would not give you an option”.
As we approached the loading area, I told my friend to get on the ride, we would meet her at the exit, and I was having a talk with her daughter. So I did.
I told the daughter that:
- She is old enough to know the world does not revolve around her.
- Her mother deserves to enjoy herself too.
- When we love people, we do things that do not excite us, in order to support and encourage our loved ones, without a temper-tantrum like a two-year old.
In essence, I told her she needed to think of herself less.
My friend exited the ride. Her daughter had the “mad at the world” expression.
So, I updated her about the conversation.
My friend said “I know you wanted to ride it. We could have done a rider switch”.
I looked at her and chuckled, “remember I don’t enjoy roller coasters, this one just seems low enough to the ground that I could do it”.
She said, “so why did you stand in line planning to ride it?”.
I responded “because when we love people, we want them to have a good time”.
When we are able to think of our own wants and desires, honor points, reputation, and social net-worth less, then we are freed to reflect God and strive towards the kingdom that is here now, near, and not yet fulfilled. This kingdom in Luke’s Gospel is often depicted as a banquet table with room enough and a place for all people.
Our Hebrew scripture reminds us how to reflect said kingdom through sharing mutual love, showing hospitality to the stranger, remembering those in prison and being tortured, doing good, and sharing all we have in order to free ourselves from the LOVE of money and its perceived accompanying social net-worth. This the justice God demands and the sacrifices that pleases God.
Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” echoes genuine humility.
Hold the door.
Say Please. Say Thank you.
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie.
I know you got mountains to climb
but always stay humble and kind.
When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you
when the work you put in is realized
let yourself feel the pride
but always stay humble and kind.
and it concludes:
When you get where you’re goin’
don’t forget turn back around
help the next one in line
always stay humble and kind.
Jesus humbled himself becoming God incarnate in human flesh and bone.
Jesus humbled himself as one born not to a king, but born to peasants.
Jesus humbled himself by taunting his reputation with sinners like us.
And Jesus, I believe, did not think less of himself.
May we know that there is a place for us and all at the table,
because Jesus assured it.
May we humble ourselves as Jesus humbled himself.
May we ‘feel the pride but always stay humble and kind’.
May we, as seen on Facebook, be:
Humble enough to know I’m not better than anyone
and wise enough to know I am different than the rest.
Scriptures were Sirach 10: 12-18; Proverbs 25:6-7; Psalm 112; Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16; and
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Originally preached 1 Sept. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).