American Humble Pie
The readings today speak about humility. Being humble doesn’t seem to be too politically correct these days. In fact, it seems downright un-American. To get ahead or even to live a decent life, don’t we have to be competitive, aggressive, confident, and the best in all that we do? Being humble seems like a nice idea for someone who helps the poor, but it’s no way to climb the corporate ladder or hold your ground.
Yet maybe to understand what Jesus is saying, we need to change our attitude about what it means to be humble.
I propose that we make a new definition for humility. I think humility means ‘the ability to not take yourself so seriously that you can’t laugh at your life.’ We must remember what Voltaire said: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” In fact, the readings today show God telling us how not to make fools of ourselves.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Jesus tells a story about a wedding banquet. He tells us that if we go there expecting to sit at the elite table of the wealthy, we might get embarrassed when the waiter escorts us over to the “kiddy table” due to the fact that some “big wig” has arrived. But if we go to the wedding banquet (life) starting out at the lowest of all places, we will feel great when we are invited over to the head table.
Jesus says, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Okay — Jesus makes this sound really cool (kind of like Confucius), but what does this mean for us?
Well, let’s start by putting things in perspective using situations we can actually identify with. Which illustrates the learning of humility: An arrogant back-stabber being humiliated on the latest “reality TV” show? Or a middle-aged man coming to the realization that he can’t play basketball like he used to?
Obviously, most of us would enjoy watching the arrogant little back-stabber taken down a notch or two. And even though there may be a certain slap-stick quality in a pot-bellied mid-lifer attempting a lay-up, chances are good that there would be no humiliation. The middle-aged man would very likely wipe his brow and laugh while saying, “I’m definitely not as young as I used to be!”
If we have the ability to laugh at ourselves and live humbly — whatever happens in our lives — we will persevere. This is why comedies often have such a healing power. In watching someone else fumble, fail, fall, flop, say the wrong thing, get stumped, lose everything, or just feel like they don’t belong, we learn how to deal with those same occurrences when they happen in our own lives. When something humbling does come our way, we can stand back, laugh, and realize that it’s nothing compared to what befalls the poor comedians in our favorite movies.
Only when we can laugh at ourselves can we begin to live. When we stop worrying about ourselves, we can start to help others. And that’s where the Mother Teresa kind of humility can start.
When we begin each day thanking God for our lives and asking him to be with us through the good and bad, we are being humble. John Rushkin said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” When we are humble we realize that we are a part of something much greater than ourselves, and that it’s our job to do the best that we can to reach out to others.
As we have seen in many of the Olympic athletes over the years, excellence and humility aren’t incompatible with each other. We can live the American dream, but we will only persevere if we do so with a light and thankful heart. We can have success, but we will only feel whole if we help others share the rewards we find.
So what are we waiting for? God needs a good laugh — and so do you!
What was your most embarrassing experience? If you can laugh at it now, why couldn’t you then?
What has been your biggest disappointment and how did you deal with this?
What are you totally incapable of doing? What are you good at? How might you be able to use your gifts to help others?
Original article by Nick Popadich, 2001.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.