Joshua 3:7-17 and Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 • Micah 3:5-12 and Psalm 43 • 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 • Matthew 23:1-12 OR Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 34:1-10, 22 • 1 John 3:1-3 • Matthew 5:1-12
This year, All Saint's Day – November 1 – falls on a Sunday. On the Sunday closest to, or on, November 1, congregations have the choice of using the readings for the Sunday itself or for All Saint's Day. There are many options for texts today! As I look through all these scripture passages, I'm struck by the similar theme: humility. It doesn't matter which of these you read, the message is to be humble.
Somehow the word humility conjures up the idea of giving up who you are, or what you are trying to do with your life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Humility allows a person to be fully herself – shedding many burdens which (as can only be seen from a humble posture) were never hers at all. Humility allows a person to sleep at night.
Jesus – in the Matthew 23 passage – is telling people to watch out for those who would place heavy burdens on them. He had in mind a particular group, the Pharisees, who had a lot of rules for everyone else to follow. He also condemns them for showing off their good deeds and for craving status. The process, though, of their placing heavy burdens on the people, was Jesus' main concern.
Burdening or focusing on others lacks humility. A focus on others, thinking what they should be doing or where they have gone wrong (or right!), gets in the way of leading a humble life. The constant attention on another, whether blaming or praising, criticizing or helping, keeps a person from an inward look at their own responsibilities. Not only that, but it can get in the way of the other person's life. At home and at work, when people begin acting to please others without considering their own ideas, they have lost themselves. The reciprocal process keeps everyone bound up.
Humility, in contrast, is utter freedom. A small example. In these covid times, processes for family members of a patient in the hospital are different. What used to be a bit of a game – get to the hospital early, to catch the doctors on their rounds – has now become an impossibility. There are two ways of thinking about it. One way is to focus on the hospital staff (including physicians), blaming them for not staying in touch. Another way it to see what they are up against, and to work to stay in touch over the phone. Before all this can happen, though, is the humble step of seeing one's own anguish at the illness of the family member. Bringing one's mind into contact with one's emotional system is the beginning. Distinguishing between one's responsibility to others and for self is a help.
Once a person is reflecting on the covid-hospital environment, it's possible to recognize one's own need to be in contact with those caring for the family member. It is hard to be left out. That's what all those pre-dawn trips to the hospital were about, back before covid. We are a cooperative species and staying connected during a family member's illness is as natural as breathing. A humble person, though, can show up without having to be the center of attention. A humble person can be present without pressuring others in any direction. A humble person brings peace to the room, zoom or real.
A humble person does not follow the practice of the Pharisees, heaping burdens on the hospital staff for health problems that go beyond human capacity to solve. Neither does she take on burdens beyond her own capacity. Jesus warned folks about taking on impossible tasks: the ever-more-exact detail of following the letter of the law while forgetting about its basic principles of kindness and fairness. Whenever a person begins to take on more than she can reasonably do, she is stoking a fire of resentment and blame. A first step towards decreasing one's arrogance is to practice saying something like no, I can't take that on right now. Considering one's own agenda, looking at the calendar with a reality-based view, is a beginning step towards a humble life.
Morning: What are my plans for the day? How will I balance my responsibilities?
Evening: Where did I find a humble perspective?
Psalm 107:9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.