There is an old native saying that if you want to know someone you should walk a mile in their moccasins. A more modern way of saying it is that we should not judge the people around us, because we never really know what they are going through at any given time.
Yet another way to put this is, be humble.
What does it mean to be humble? If you look it up in the dictionary it is a pretty unhappy state... It can mean to hold yourself in low estate, to have low self esteem, to be poor and have no social rank - or as a verb it can mean to put someone in their place.
But this cannot be what Jesus meant when he said we should be humble, can it?
Is it always such a negative thing? Or has the dictionary become influenced by our modern society and our way of thinking that bigger is better?
Faith is an exploration; it is about looking at who we are and how we should be. And today we are going to talk about the very biblical idea that the first shall be last and the last shall be first...
The Threshing Floors (Joel 2:23-32)
Let’s just for a second look at this a different way - from the angle of luck. For thousands of years people attributed good fortune to the gods. By this I mean to say that if you won the lottery, if the crops grew, if you were healthy all winter, God did it.
It wasn't even about deserving it. It was not about what you did. It was luck pure and simple.
Look around, the prophet Joel says the threshing floors are full of grain, the vats are full of oil... The sun is shining and we are lucky. After all, who can understand why the gods do things. God causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike, to quote the good book... So if your world is going well... Count yourself lucky.
Believe it or not it is only in the last 200 years, give or take, that a different way of seeing the world has come around. It can be blamed in science and the industrial revolution, where we started creating machines.
All of a sudden people decided the universe worked on cause and affect. If we did something it caused something else. From a religious point of view, if we were good we were rewarded. If we were bad we were going to hell.
Problem is, no one has ever in the last 200 years proved this to be true.
Good people have bad things happen, and bad people have good things happen. Not only that, but scientists have come around to admitting they don't understand why things. Happen either. There is an exception to almost every rule... And they invented two new sciences, quantum and chaos theory just to explain why cause and effect don't work.
But for some reason, when it comes to church, God and being good or bad, we still believe this wrong theory.
Beating Our Breasts
See, the Pharisee does not get the luck thing. That is what is happening here. For some reason he thinks he is better than the people around him, he thinks that it is perhaps because he is smarter, or stronger, or more faithful, or prettier… There is no “there but for the grace of God go I” in his way of thinking.
There is not much humility there. The Humble one is the poor person who is convinced they are not worthy, and Jesus points out that this is the better response.
Why is that? Well, to put it simply, it is because arrogance is a bad thing. To be arrogant is to treat other people badly. To be arrogant is to think you can do everything yourself. To be arrogant is to think you are better. And the problem is, all of that creates walls between us and other people.
And we all know the thing we are supposed to do with other people is to love them.
Now, there are some issues with the poor person who thinks he is nothing but a sinner. We will get to that in a few moments.
But the real point is that we are supposed to care for each other. We are supposed to love each other. We are supposed to be doing what Jesus would have done. And humility is necessary in order to be the type of person God wants.
There is a very similar story about the good Samaritan. The priest thought he was too good to help the man in the ditch. So did the temple lawyer… but the Samaritan, who was already an outcast got it. He was the one who helped.
It is always easier to relate to people in pain, to people who have bad luck and to people who struggle if we have been there ourselves. Humility, in its best sense, is empathy. It is being able to feel the other person’s pain.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson; Author, Lecturer
Of course, the other side can be true. That is why I read you this quote. You can be too humble. I like to call this “worm” theology. I am nothing but a worm, God, and I am terrible, and useless, and…
When you say things like this, when you BELIEVE things like this, you no longer have it within yourself to do anything good. Who am I to make the world a better place? Who am I to speak up about this? If I do this it won’t make a difference anyway…
Ever say anything like this? Ever feel anything like this? We all have.
But this is not humility the way Jesus explains it. This is not what God wants you to feel. We need to know that we DO make a difference, that we do have the power to do anything, that we can change the world… we just need to make sure we do not get too full of ourselves.
It is a balance. And some days we are too arrogant and some days we are too meek. We all are. But that does not mean we have to stay that way. It is about finding the balance, it is about accepting responsibility, it is about seeing others as being as valuable as us…
So walk humbly with God. That is the bottom line here. We need to be in the world to help other people.
We need to know that we can make a difference. And we need to be faithful in our love for others.
It is not really that hard. None of this really is. What we talk about in church and what God requires of us are pretty basic things. To believe in goodness and to remember how lucky we are to be in this situation. To notice when the vats are full of oil and the pantry full of food and to give thanks, to enjoy the life we have been given; and to share that goodness with the world around us.