We hear some strange words from Jesus in today’s Gospel. “Whoever exalts themself shall be humbled. But whoever humbles themself shall be exalted.”
This is not the only place in scripture where we hear of the insistence of humility. It seems as if Jesus thought of humility as an indispensable quality of character. In His scale of values, it appears that humility ranked somewhere near the top. He was convinced no one could truly succeed without it.
We might generally agree that humility is a good thing, but we tend to think of it as a kind of decorative virtue. A certain amount of it can make people nicer and more pleasant to be around. But we hardly think of it as an imperative quality.
Why was humility so important to Jesus? I think the answer lies in the point of realism. Jesus was committed to dealing with life as it really is. He did not accept phoniness. That was the crux of his conflict with some of the Pharisees and the scribes. They were the teachers of Israel and Jesus told His disciples to follow their teachings – but not their example.
They were not genuine. Their religion was mostly a performance intended to gain public approval. Jesus could not abide by that kind of pretense. Jesus has more patience with a genuine sinner than with a phony Saint.
There is another reality that some call “hypocrisy.” It’s very common. And, I’m not just speaking about the people who do not practice what they preach or believe what they preach. I am speaking about those who do practice what they preach, but not out of total conviction and comfort.
They go to Mass, say their prayers, do not deceive anyone. But they have difficulties concerning their faith or how they practice their faith. They say, “How can I believe in a God who lets bad things happen to good people? My child died, my spouse left me. I pray, but my prayers are never answered. When I pray, it is like talking to myself. I feel like the scribes and Pharisees. I feel like a hypocrite.”
If you feel this way, you are not alone. Many people at some time in their lives feel this way. They derive no comfort from their faith. They just go through the motions. This is not hypocrisy. This is a journey, and searching. This is the journey of the spiritually numb hoping for a thaw.
Such people are not hypocrites. They are filled with humility. They are beloved of God, who is with them on their own personal Calvary, trying to discover what it means to be a good Catholic.
And there will be a time when they can say with the Psalmist, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.”