Humility in the Beatitudes

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When we think of the word humility, what is the first thought that comes to mind? We probably think it is something self-deprecating. Often times, we think in order to be humble that we have to hold not only a low opinion of ourselves, but usually a downright negative opinion of ourselves. That’s not what humility is at all.

Humility goes a bit deeper than that. It is the ability to recognize our goodness and who we are before God and to rejoice in that. It means being able to acknowledge that we are members of one human family and that we are able to appreciate the gifts and talents that we and others bring to our community. But it also means that we recognize who we are as sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. If we truly understand these aspects of humility, then we are able to see ourselves as God sees us, to see others as God sees others, and to run to Him when we need Him the most.

The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus is likely one of the most radical teachings of all time. The main part of that teaching is what we hear in today’s Gospel: the Beatitudes. They give us sort of a road map for how to live our lives as children of the Father and disciples of the Lord. And humility is the idea that unifies each of them.

In this particular part of His teaching, Jesus tells us that living a blessed life in the eyes of God will be a contradiction against the worldly standard of happiness. They suggest that the way to be truly blessed, to possess the true essence of happiness is to embrace a way of life that seems to go completely against everything the world tells us will bring us happiness. The world tells us that the road to happiness is to have more, to have the most – to have money, power, and material possessions. On the other hand, Jesus says the way to happiness is to be more, to be humble and merciful. That’s exactly what the Beatitudes invite us to embrace.

If we look carefully at these statements of Jesus, we see a common denominator: the person who is blessed is the person who is not thinking about himself at every moment. What does Jesus say?

  • The poor in spirit and those who suffer persecution gracefully realize that they are not the center of the universe – God is.
  • Those who are clean of heart realize that others don’t exist just for the sake of their own pleasure.
  • The peacemakers are those who are concerned about the needs and problems of others.
  • The one who is merciful is concerned about the suffering of others.
  • Those who mourn are concerned about the damage their sin does to the Church, the world, and other people.
  • The meek are those who care more about getting things done than getting credit for doing things.
  • Those who hunger for righteousness realize that their life has a higher purpose, that they are part of a bigger story.[1]

Underlying all of these Beatitudes is this fundamental attitude that places God and others ahead of self. It looks out at the world instead of staring in, fixated on self. That is humility. God loves those who strive for this type of attitude because it brings the soul to recognize who they are before Him and opens us to receive the gifts that He wishes to grant to us. The arrogant soul is one who is closed in on themselves. No one can get in, not even God. That’s is why our First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah shows God praising the humble and lowly and exhorting us to seek the Lord, to seek humility.[2]

The ministry of Zephaniah took place during the reign of Josiah, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. The prophet is calling out the people of Judah for their worship of false gods and for the abuse and unjust treatment of others by their leaders. He tells them that the day of judgment is coming, described as a time of darkness, of anguish and distress, of destruction for their cities, and of threat to all life.

Zephaniah calls the people of Judah to repentance from their ways. He calls them to recognize their faults, to return to a sense of humility, and to acknowledge who they are before God and to recognize their need for His mercy. Zephaniah says that if they do this, the Lord would remove the judgment against them; He would show them His mercy and restore the remnant of the Kingdom.

That’s a similar message to what the Lord is telling us today. What we see happening in our world is not unlike the things that were happening in the time of the Prophet. They aren’t unlike the things that were happening in the time of Jesus. Too often we can fall prey into thinking that it’s okay for us to live in the way that society tells us, to do as others are doing, to put our own needs and desires ahead of the needs and desires of others.

In essence, that shows us that we all have areas in our lives where we fail to live the ideal for discipleship, areas in our hearts where we fail to embrace the will of God – spaces where we prevent the Lord from entering. The Lord is calling us to go deeper. He is inviting us to consider our own sinfulness and to humbly come before Him to ask for His mercy and forgiveness. Why does He do that? Because we are His; we are His sons and daughters; we are created in His image and likeness; He loves us the most out of all of His creation. And He knows that we’re not perfect. The Father doesn’t seek out the perfect, those who have it all together. But instead, He looks for those who are willing to strive for that perfection, those who are humble, those who are trying. He seeks those who, when they fail, will try again to do God’s will. And that’s you and me.

Relationship with God cannot exist without humility. We cannot receive mercy without humility. We cannot receive God’s grace without the ability to ask for it. We cannot be a disciple without humility because we can’t be like Jesus without humility. We can’t turn away from our wickedness if we don’t see our sin because we’re too proud. We can’t do the will of the Father, if our pride is getting in the way of allowing us to live it. We cannot embrace true blessedness if we continue to put ourselves ahead of God and ahead of others.

Jesus is encouraging us to continue striving to be faithful to His teachings.  We are called to live as true and genuine Christians, always seeking to be righteous and just in our way of life, striving to show love to those we encounter, bringing peace and harmony to the community, and being selfless and generous in giving. We are called to be virtuous and examples that, in our actions, words and deeds, we will always exhibit the most Christ-like attitude. We are called to point others to Christ by how we live.

We have to allow the message of the Gospel to transform our hearts in order to bring others to a deeper encounter with God. The invitation that we receive today – and every day – is to challenge ourselves to attempt to live the Beatitudes in their fullness. May we renew that commitment at this Eucharistic celebration and ask the Lord to give us the courage to always strive to embody the true spirit of humility in how we live as His disciples.

[1] Adapted from, Homily Pack for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

[2] Adapted from, Homily Pack for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Painting: The Sermon on the Mountain by Arsène Robert (1830-1895), St. Martin Church – Prix de Rome – third of the five monumental paintings of the choir. Photo by Didier Descouens. Wikicommons. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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