Sunday, September 1, 2019
A Reflection on Sirach, Chapter 3, Verses 17 and 18, N.A.B.
By: Larry T. Smith
17My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
18Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find mercy in the sight of God.
Ben Sira, the son of Eleazar, authored the book of Sirach in Jerusalem approximately 190-180 BC; his book is not found in Hebrew or Protestant bibles; in Catholic bibles it is considered one of the wisdom books. The wisdom of Ben Sira is timeless, and today it is just as applicable as it was in his time; in our modern world it may even be more relevant. What more can we add to the wisdom of Ben Sira?
Unquestionably the greatest act of humility known to mankind is recounted for us by Saint Paul in Philippians 2:5-8:
5Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, 6Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 7Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 8he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Saint Paul says that Jesus, the Godly One, humbled himself and willingly became fully human. And in the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .” (Jn 1:14). That Jesus retained his divinity while being fully human is a mystery that theologians label as the hypostatic union. As Christians, we see the Incarnation (God made man) as a free-will gift from the loving Father to his undeserving children and the supreme act of humility of His only begotten Son. What more is there to say about humility?
In Matthew 18:1-5 we read:
1At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child over, placed it in their midst, 3and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
But what is the Christian definition of humility? Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines humility as:
The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one's total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one's creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God's gifts and use them according to his will.
Jesus also said:
29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.—Matthew 11:29-30
In his book New Seeds of Contemplation Thomas Merton writes: "Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love." Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” and Thomas Merton writes, “pride is the heaviest of all burdens.” What is it that makes Jesus’ yoke such a light burden for his followers? Accepting the priceless gift of faith that Jesus offers to us includes leaving pride behind and become humble like him. Is pride really the heaviest of all burdens? How often have our heads hurt, shoulders slumped and backs ached from the stress of pride? How many lies are told because we cannot admit to committing common mistakes?
Most Christians will agree that God created the world, but does pride prevent us from conceding that the country that we live in belongs to Him? Most Christians will similarly agree that the food on our tables is a gift from Him, but do we agree that we have a responsibility to share any overabundance that our country might have with those who are less fortunate? Does our pride push us so far as to prevent us from admitting that every breath we take is a gift from Him? Admittedly, true humility runs counter to our present culture and many will smirk and howl that it is a sign of weakness. How easily and cheaply it is for the evil one to purchase souls using the currency of pride!
And we must ask ourselves two questions: how much peace has humility brought to our world, and how much destruction has pride caused?