Faith and our Lost Humility – Matthew 8:1-13
What is humility? How do we define humility? How is the word used? Often humility is seen as a virtue to strive for – “I’ll try really, really hard to be really, really humble - I’ll be great at it.” Humility as a virtue to strive for usually ends up being its opposite.
Humility can sometimes be thought of as a mere personality trait or characteristic – “he’s a very nice, humble man” – this is often merely outward. Sometimes humility is praised as someone else’s unassertive nature - we say that someone is a humble man when he always gives in to what we want.
In ourselves, humility can be a cover up. Sometimes humility is a cover up for mere timidity or fear. Humility, for example, becomes a man’s excuse for shirking his responsibility to be the leader and head of his home. Humility might become a supervisor’s or teacher’s excuse for not enforcing the rules.
At other times, humility might become a cover up for self-serving motives – an outward humble personality is sometimes used to manipulate or persuade others. (You’ve gotta watch out for that.)
And, at times, we try to show humility by belittling ourselves in front of others or by belittling our own words right after we say them. These are all false humilities. It seems that when we strive to be “humble”, we usually strive for a misconception of humility instead.
Biblically speaking, what is true humility? Humility is not a mere personality trait; it’s not a virtue to attain; and it’s not there to make us better people. Instead, true humility is the honest awareness and acceptance of who and what I am. Humility is the awareness and acceptance of my place in life according to God’s Word. Humility is the acceptance of what God says that I am. And, in this sin-broken existence, humility is the confession of my sin-sick condition and of my guilt before God.
What are you in life? What are your vocations? Are you a mother, a father, a husband, a wife? Are you a son or daughter? An employee or an employer? A hearer or a preacher? Are you a citizen of a particular state under particular laws? These are your many vocations. Humility is the acknowledgment that God has made me these many things and, therefore, that God’s Word governs how I do these things – how I carry out each of these vocations.
What does God’s Word say to wives? What does God’s Word say to husbands? To children? To citizens? To masters? To servants? And so on [Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9]. Who lives next to you? Who do you work with? God has given you the vocation of being their neighbor. What does God’s Word say about being a neighbor?
If, according to one of these vocations, God’s Word says that I am to be subject to or am to submit to someone else – an employee to a boss, a wife to a husband, a child to a parent, a student to teacher, a congregation to its pastor, a citizen to the government – then humility accepts what God has said about that station or vocation in life and willingly obeys God’s will in that regard.
If, according to one of these vocations in life, I am to be the leader or to be the head, or if I’m to be an authority figure, true humility must, with courage, accept that role of headship because it’s given by God. What God has chosen to make you, that’s what you are – therefore you must carry it out and accept that role of headship and authority - true humility accepts whatever God has ordained.
It has become very popular in our culture for husbands, in regards to wives, for mom and dad, in regards to children, for teachers, in regards to students, for pastors, in regards to congregations, (and so on), to shun and reject the belief that they themselves have any authority or headship in their station in life. Shunning our own authority or headship is done in the name of humility, but, in fact, doing so is the very height of arrogance – it tells God that He was wrong. It tells God that He is behind the times, not as enlightened as us. It is, in fact, a refusal to accept who God has made you to be in life.
Humility accepts what God has made you to be. God has ordered this life according to His wisdom and according to His love for us. True humility believes that. In this life, we are all subject to somebody at every turn, and we are all somebody’s leader or example at every turn. This is all by God’s design, and it is good. God has ordered and designed human life and relationships to work in particular ways. True humility acknowledges that God is wiser than me, and, therefore I accept His designs and His ways.
Humility is indeed the awareness and acceptance of my station in life, whatever that station is – and My first station in life is that I am a creature and that God is my creator. Humility keeps myself the creature and keeps God God. [again] Humility keeps myself as the creature and keeps God as God.
Humility which accepts myself as a mere creature and which accepts God’s authority to order and design my place in life is very much lost, not just in the world, but also in the Church. This harms faith in Christ. Faith in Christ walks hand in hand with humility. Those who resist this true humility before God cannot expect to continue in the faith forever, but instead should expect to fall away. We gain the humility we don’t have only by first recognizing our own sins and our own guilt before God. Therefore, for the sake of faith in the Savior, God’s Law makes us unworthy.
In our Gospel lesson today – Matthew 8:1-13 – we encounter two humble people, two people with an awareness and acceptance of who and what they are. The first is a leper. Jesus, after spending Matthew chapters 5-7 preaching the Sermon on the Mount – in which He describes what it is to be a holy and pure man – a description which only He Himself fulfills – comes down the mountain to be immediately greeted by a man who is counted as unholy and impure under the Law, the Law of Moses – God’s Law under the Old Testament.
Under the Law of Moses, lepers were deemed ceremonially unclean (which wasn’t just about the risk of contagion) and were made to live separate from the Holy things of God and from the Holy People of God. Lepers were made to live a life that we might dare call unjust. Yet this leper in today’s Gospel lesson makes no demands of Jesus. He doesn’t cry injustice or question God’s goodness. à
à This leper doesn’t demand to be treated any different than a leper. But, instead, the leper says to his Lord, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” No demands for reparation. Instead, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And, of course, our Lord Jesus is willing. It’s why He came – to make the unclean clean and to save the sinner. And, so, Jesus does what He is willing to do – He cleans the unclean man. The unclean leper believed himself to be an unclean leper; and he believed Christ to be a capable Savior – “Lord, if you are willing, you CAN make me clean.”
Next, we encounter the more often remembered example – the Centurion, who is said by our Lord to have great faith, and whose servant was ill, paralyzed. This Centurion is a Gentile, not an Israelite or a Jew. Jesus, in His earthly ministry, “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 15:24]. The Gentiles were second place – second place to the House of Israel.
Nevertheless, this Gentile Centurion, in faith, approaches Jesus. He approaches not demanding but trusting that Jesus has come willing to help even the unworthy and the second-place people. When Jesus says to the Centurion, “I will come and heal your servant”, the Centurion replies, “No, Lord, but only say the word from here and my servant will be healed; for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”
The Centurion was not offended to say of himself that he was unworthy. The Centurion, who was a Roman ruler, a leader in the Roman army which ruled over Israel, was not offended to be counted as a second-place person to the children of the House of Israel. Instead, he acknowledged himself to be unworthy of this Israelite Savior. The Centurion accepted that God counted him, a Gentile, second place for the time, yet trusted full-well that God would, nevertheless, without a doubt, exercise His Divine authority to rescue his ailing servant.
We learn from Luke’s Gospel [Luke 7:1-10] that this Centurion could have presumed to make a case for himself before Jesus if he so desired. This Centurion had built the local synagogue, the local church, for the Jews there. The Centurion could have reminded Jesus that he, in fact, is one of the biggest donors, one of the biggest contributors, and therefore should get the good treatment. Instead, the Centurion is content to count himself only as an unworthy sinner. Because he knows his sins, he feels entitled to nothing, yet he fully anticipates mercy, healing, and forgiveness. Jesus calls this great faith.
We are unworthy sinners, entitled to nothing. The awareness and acceptance of this fact is biblical humility. I believe that I hold the station in life that God has given me, and that, in that station, I have been found a sinner. I’ve fallen short of God’s commands for my station, my vocation, whatever it is. In knowing that I am a sinner, I can know the Savior of sinners, Jesus, who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [Mark 2:17].
Jesus, our Savior, is THE Man of true Humility. Jesus, though mighty, associated with the lowly and with the guilty. Christ’s humility was found especially in being subject to the will of His Father as a Son and in accepting His place as the Head of the Church and, therefore, as her dying Savior [Ephesians 5:25]. He accepted His station as a Son – He accepted His station as a Savior. He therefore gave his life and died on the cross, according to will of His Father, for the sake of His Church as her head. Thanks be to God for our humble Savior given for us; and may we, in our vocations, have His mind of humility [Philippians 2:5-8] at work in us. Amen.