The humility of God. Have you ever stopped to think about the virtue of humility in God? Usually when we think of God, we think of things like all knowing, all-powerful, all present. Qualities of God that are mysterious and transcendent. But humility? We don’t often think of the virtue of humility in God. St. Paul reflected on this in his letter to the Philippians. The example of Jesus is the humility of God par-excellence. Consider the story of Jesus.
The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords was not born in a palace. Instead, he was born in Bethlehem, away from the family home in Nazareth. There was no room in the Inn so he was born in a barn. Most of the world didn’t even notice – except for a group of shepherds working 2nd shift – nighttime duty guarding the flocks of sheep. They were the ones who had a vision of angels and were invited to visit Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. He had a humble birth.
The Savior of the World spent most of his life as a construction worker. The word in Greek is “tekton” – a builder or carpenter - someone with mastery of construction techniques using wood or even stone. He lived a humble and rather ordinary life as a regular worker.
His career as a preacher was brilliant but short. Three very consequential yet short years, gathering disciples, teaching, proclaiming the kingdom of God with many signs and wonders. And after three short years the human family, led by a coalition of religious leaders and political leaders, conspired, lied, and condemned him to a cruel death. And Jesus, the son of the living God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became obedient to death, even death on a cross. He was brutally executed, stripped naked, and left to die nailed to a cross. Humanity did this to him. Our sins did this to him. He died not just a humble death, but also a humiliating death. It is amazing, isn’t it? The humility of God.
God continues to come to us in humility. At this Mass we gathered in the name of Jesus. And Jesus told us that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” He is present to us, here among us, in such a humble way. Jesus walks with us on our journey through life by being present in his church. It is a humble and quiet presence. Do we notice him?
At this Mass we gather to listen to the Word of God. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus is “the word made flesh.” And so he speaks to us when we read and reflect on sacred scripture. It is a humble voice. Do we listen to him?
At this Mass we come to the altar to receive the Eucharist. Jesus is present to us in his body and blood, soul and divinity, through very ordinary bread and wine. So very humble and ordinary so that we can receive him. It is a humble and accessible presence. Do we receive him? God continues to come to us in humility.
God calls us to be humble like him. Loving like him. Self-sacrificial like him. And it isn’t easy. Like the Israelites in the first reading, we human beings tend to complain. We tend to accuse God. Our patience gets worn out. Our pride gets in the way. And these things always turn around to bite us, just like those seraph serpents in the story. Like Nicodemus in the gospel, we misunderstand God’s ways. Our own learning – little as it is – gets in the way. We end up in the dark about spiritual things; unsure about what God is actually doing.
But God calls out to us to become humble. It all begins by truly acknowledging God in our lives. Jesus told Nicodemus how to do it in these words. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Be humble by believing in Jesus. Now, believing in Jesus doesn’t mean merely acknowledging his historical existence. Even demons acknowledge his existence. But believing means taking to heart his gospel and living it out. Believing means putting our faith in him. Believing means trusting him, even when conditions are dire, like the conditions were for the Israelites in the desert. They flunked that test in a big way. When we are put to the test, will we also flunk it? Be humble by believing in Jesus and trusting in him.
Be humble by repenting of sin. These were the very first words of Jesus in proclaiming the gospel. Repent and believe, the kingdom of God is near. How long has it been since you’ve been to confession? How often do you receive this great sacrament of God’s love and mercy? Jesus calls us once again to humble ourselves and repent of sin.
Be humble by worshipping Jesus. St. Paul describes this in the 2nd reading when he wrote “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Regularly draw near to Jesus through liturgy, personal prayer, and loving service. When we are close to Jesus, we recognize him when he comes to us. And when we are close to Jesus, then we are loyal to him, we believe in him, and we love him. Be humble by submitting our lives to Jesus and worshipping him. God calls us to be humble, just like him.
We honor and exalt the cross of Jesus today, the ultimate symbol of his humility and love. We unite the crosses we carry with his cross. Let us declare that we believe in him, we repent of our sins, and we worship him. And so we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.