In our modern era, among the many qualities we may desire, humility seldom gets a look in.
The tendency within society is to overlook the strength of selflessness and instead, honour those who achieve success and recognition.
Joey is just 8 years of age and plays the cello. In the recent Maclean Eisteddfods, she performed beautifully and was lauded by the judges, her friends and family. I asked her about the award she’d won, and she cocked her head and looked at me quizzically. “Everybody gets an award” she said. And then the penny dropped. It’s discriminatory to single anyone out for recognition. Awards are given to everyone, so that no-one’s self-esteem is damaged.
However, on a visit to the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum’s security guard if she could play a few bars on it and accompanied the request with a lavish tip. The guard agreed. So, the girl went to the piano, sat down and played the opening bars of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving, she said to the guard: “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play that piano.” The guard shook his head. “The greatest pianists tell me they feel unworthy to touch it” he said.
An amusing spin on humility was illustrated by a well-known academic, a professor of physics at a leading university when he was called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination, a lawyer demanded: “What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?” The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly: “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend, well acquainted with the professor’s disposition expressed surprise at the uncharacteristic answer. To which the professor responded: “Well, what did you expect me to say? I was under oath.”
Humility does not mean thinking less of oneself than of other people. Nor does it mean having a low opinion of our own gifts. It does mean that it frees us from the self-congratulatory pride that leads us to think we are superior to, or better than others. So, humility is the opposite of pride, for it doesn’t need to constantly drain the life-blood from those considered less talented or inferior in some way.
Jesus was the Son of God! He was with his heavenly father from the very beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. But he chose to become man in order to identify with our struggles, reveal to us the Father’s enduring love and purpose for His world, and ultimately, to demonstrate the power of God over all things – particularly physical death. If anyone in the history of the world was entitled to feel superior – or deserving of the accolades of worship and praise – it was Jesus.
The scriptures teach us that we should have that same attitude. For Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took the form of a servant, humbling himself and becoming obedient instead to death on a cross. God therefore exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.
The reality is that in God’s world, those seeking the highest place will be disappointed. And those who humbly serve God and others in selfless love, will be exalted.