Text: Proverbs 25:2-10
Date: Pentecost XV + Proper 17 + 8/28/16
At first it would seem that today’s readings are aimed only at good advice or wisdom concerning an aspect of leading a God pleasing life in this world. And that it is. Jesus was being serious if not also a little critical before the Pharisees of the danger of ungodly pride and the need for true humility as we prayed for in today’s collect. With the words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” and vice versa, He certainly had the principle of the proverb in mind that we heard today, “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” (Prov 25:6-7).
When you think of it, that is pretty good advice and very practical. Appropriate humility not only rightly honors a person in a position of authority but invites that person’s graceful relationship. We teach our children to respect their elders calling them Mr., Miss or Mrs. If you’re pulled over by the police it is the wisest thing to cooperate and politely obey whatever request is made. The problem is however that humility doesn’t always work in every circumstance in this world as when you’re being evaluated for a position of leadership.
Yet pride and humility are of greatest importance especially when considering your relationship with God. If the Pharisees were proud and self-assured certainly the “ruler of the Pharisees” would be more so. They were watching Jesus carefully, not as to humbly learn something from Him but rather to catch Jesus as a law breaker. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Their silence and inability to reply to Jesus revealed their shameful pride and motives.
Both St. James and St. Peter quote Proverbs 3:34 saying “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” In the Magnificat Mary, mother of our Lord, sings how God “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Lk 1:52). Of greatest importance however is the Lord Jesus in His active, earthly ministry, the life He lived in order to bring us salvation, what the catechism calls His state of humiliation. “Humiliation” here does not refer to embarrassment or mistakes but rather Jesus’ complete and perfect obedience to God’s Law as a man, as one of us, in our place. St. Paul described it with these words, “Christ Jesus…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8). Then he adds, “Have this mind among yourselves.” In humility Jesus testified before the Jews in John’s Gospel saying, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me….” (John 8:54).
It was in the offering of Himself to the ridicule, the false judgment and the condemnation of death on a cross that Jesus fulfilled His role as the prophet Isaiah’s “suffering servant” and our Savior. When we sing the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” we think, for instance, of His silence before His accusers as St. Mark tells us, “the chief priests accused [Jesus] of many things. And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed” (Mark 15:3-5). Only the truly innocent can afford silence.
We do not have the facility here to do as most of our brothers and sisters do when they confess their sins or receive Holy Communion in the Divine Service, namely, humbly kneeling. Yet the words with which we express our contrition and repentance reflect true humility. The prophet Isaiah said, “Thus says the Lord: …this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Is 66:2). This recalls the psalm that says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).
Even a bold confession of faith is done not with pride but humility, as St. Paul said, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Rom 10:9-11).
Therefore let us pray today. O God, You resist the proud and give grace to the humble. Grant us true humility after the likeness of Your only Son that we may never be arrogant and prideful and thus provoke Your wrath but in all lowliness be made partakers of the gifts of Your grace; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen