The readings for this first Saturday in Lent spoke to me of humility. And I think perhaps humility is the most misunderstood of the virtues, because we don’t really know what it means and thus practice it poorly, if at all. Even with the best of intentions, we get it wrong.
Somewhere (and I really wish I could remember where, because I’d like to give credit) I read that humility is simply the knowledge of who we are and of our place in the world. It isn’t the quality of putting ourselves down, or of defining ourselves as being worth less than others, or of making ourselves seem worse than others. Humility isn’t that quality that’s currently described as “humble bragging,” either. Humility is the simple quality of recognizing ourselves, with all of our talents and all of our failings, with all of the good and all of the not-so-good, with all of our virtues and all of our sins, as who we are in relation to God and to other people. Humility is the foundation of right relationships both with the Lord and with people.
In today’s Old Testament reading (Jer. 58:9b-14), the prophet shows us how the way to God’s grace is paved with humility. When we recognize our sinful tendencies and set them aside in favor of the actions that God prescribes, God’s gifts are life-giving water and light. It is humility that shows us who we are in relation to God: We are His creatures, and we are by nature sinful creatures. He is our Maker and the Source of all that sustains us. In humility, we recognize both our complete dependence on Him and our tendency to separate ourselves from Him by our sins. If we show our willingness to turn our backs on sin, He brings us into light and refreshes us with life-giving water: “Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday….He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.”
Psalm 86 offers the simple and profound statement: “You are my God.” From that acknowledgment, we offer our prayers for mercy and forgiveness. This is who we are in relation to God: We are sinners who need love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and sustenance.
The Gospel reading, from Luke 5:27-32, completes the picture of a relationship based on humility. First, it does so by showing us the Pharisees and scribes, who have no right understanding of who they are in relation to God or to the people around them. Here they are, defining others as sinners. Here they are, defining Jesus by their own judgments. And Jesus calls them out on it: “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” We, like the Pharisees and scribes, are often “righteous” by our own definition. It takes humility to recognize that we are, instead, the very sinners that Jesus came to save.
I crave the kind of humility that lets me recognize myself as someone Jesus came to save. He did not choose to die for my righteousness. He chose to die for my sinfulness, so that I could share in the only righteousness that matters: His.
Jesus, you see me as I am, and You love me with the greatest love. Help me in turn to see myself as I am, so that I can be fully open to Your grace and healing. Amen.
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