“VICTORY IN HUMILITY”
June 2, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May the Light of Life be yours.
FIRST READING: An excerpt from
The Heart of Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr –
If the Prophet exemplifies the virtues of humility; nobility; magnanimity and charity; and truthfulness and sincerity. For Muslims, the Prophet is the perfect model of total humility before God and neighbor; nobility and magnanimity of soul, which means to be strict with oneself but generous, charitable, and forgiving to others; and finally, perfect sincerity, which means to be totally truthful to oneself and to God.
SECOND READING: Luke 7:1 – 10.
(from The Message by Eugene Peterson) When he finished speaking to the people, he entered Capernaum. A Roman captain there had a servant who was on his deathbed. He prized him highly and didn’t want to lose him. When he heard Jesus was back, he sent leaders from the Jewish community asking him to come and heal his servant. They came to Jesus and urged him to do it, saying, “He deserves this. He loves our people. He even built our meeting place.” Jesus went with them. When he was still quite far from the house, the captain sent friends to tell him, “Master, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. I’m not that good a person, you know. I’d be embarrassed for you to come to my house, even embarrassed to come to you in person. Just give the order and my servant will get well. I’m a man under orders; I also give orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.” When the messengers got back home, they found the servant up and well.
A couple of mornings this week, the fog was so thick I could not see the trees behind our house one hundred yards away. Once on the road, I realized I could not see the traffic that was coming toward me until we were almost right upon each other. As I reflected on the situation, I realized that being in a “fog” like that, made me aware that we often need to depend on our wits, our prior knowledge, and our own good sense of direction while out on many journeys in life. I could not see where the road was taking me. I needed to depend on the belief that it would take me where I intended to go and, in a way, I had to trust those who had gone before.
Life is like that. We often start out believing that we are headed in the right direction. We might feel right about it and we may even have others to talk to in order to have a sound idea of where we are headed. While on that journey an alternate path presents itself, we have to assess its appropriateness for the journey we ultimately want to be on. We have to be able to judge the road blocks and decide which path is correct. We have to know in our heart and be able to discern for ourselves NOT what some might say is “God’s plan” but we must be able to answer the question for ourselves — “What is the most sacred and compassionate thing I can do in this circumstance?”
That question is, for me, the same as the Prophet Micah’s question, “What does the Lord (or ‘that which we allow to rule our lives) require of us?”
The answer being — “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with all that is sacred in your heart.” Do Justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.
Humility is the quiet virtue that calls us, once again, to put the needs and wants of others above our own.
The Gospel reading tells a story of Jesus, at the time known for his ability to bring healing peace to people, being asked, indirectly, by a Roman Captain to intervene on behalf of one of his slaves. The story has a lot of, what I would refer to as odd, levels in it. The Roman Captain in the Jewish city of Capernaum could go anywhere and do anything he wanted. No one was going to get in his way; no one could tell him what to do. He was the ‘top of the food chain’ so to speak. But . . . out of respect and with some humility, this Roman Captain goes to the leaders of the Jewish community and asks them to intervene with Jesus on his behalf. Jesus agrees.
While Jesus is on his way over to the house of the Captain’s slave, the Captain sends out more intermediaries to say, in effect, “Look, I respect and trust your ability to offer this man of mine your grace without even having to come here. I am not worthy of having a person as gracious and respected as you to come into my house.”
Jesus is impressed with the Captain’s humility and trust. He turns to the people with him and says something that could be considered kind of an insult. He says, “I have yet to experience this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel” (remember he is talking to Israelites). He says to them, “You are the people here who are the ones identified as ‘the children of God’ – you are the ones who are supposed to understand.”
It seems to me that Jesus knew this man’s servant would find the peace and assurance of the presence of the Sacred without his having to go and intervene because he was able to see the humility present even in one who could have come and commanded Jesus directly to do his bidding. The grace and peace were assured by the Captain’s own humble spirit.
One of my overarching questions in all things is this: What brings people together and what leads people apart? If humility and its antonym, arrogance, are put to that question, humility wins. Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations in his book, Comparisons, Humility, Identity, Unity says, “To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller than anything else in the universe. It is nothing, yet at the same time, one with everything.”
Muhammad taught the best things were: to be humble amid the vicissitudes of fortune; to pardon when powerful; and to be generous with no strings attached.
Joseph Goldstein, when speaking of humility in his book One Dharma, wrote, “Another way we realize selflessness is through seeing that things are not amenable to our will. It becomes clear that “we” are not making things happen and that “we” are not really in control of how things turn out.
And Donna Schaper, a UCC minister who I believe is in Coral Gables, Florida, wrote not long ago that, “Instead of absolute clarity, we sometimes have to settle for “haze.” We can learn to love it. Haze has its own benefits. It keeps us clear about our incompleteness and our need for God.”
It takes humility to recognize one’s own need for something beyond self. We have in this country a bit of a conflicting spirit of “pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps”, and the desire to reach out and help. That ‘something beyond self’ can be called the Sacred that works well among us, or it can be called the Great Spirit, or it can be called God. But this, I want to be clear about. It is not a ‘thing’ or a ‘person’ or a ‘person-like-thing’; it is you and I and others working together as equals among equals to help bring compassion and acceptance to still others who are equal to us.
We may not be able to see clearly where that road is taking us. But we can feel our way, discern the scope of our journey, and know that we are guided by an indescribable presence of the Sacred that works, in, among, and through each of us. The road may seem a bit foggy, we may be a bit in a haze but we will move forward on the strength of the assurance that hope is present and the spirit is alive. Thanks be to that which we call God!