Humility: Act Three

Humility: Act Three

In Humility: Act I, we saw how God relates to us in humility through the very act of creation. Creating us, sustaining us and breathing his life into us. Through the incarnation, God’s taking on human nature, joining His nature with ours, and then dying for our sins was a great act of love and humility. That humility of God continues daily, most especially in the Eucharist where God makes Himself present in the simple form of bread and wine, where the creature holds the creator of the all that is in the palm of his hand.

In Act II, we see how in response to God’ movement in humility towards us, we in turn move towards God in humility. We respond to God with adoration, praise and thanksgiving. Recognizing that we as creatures are not worthy of God’s great gifts, we humbly acknowledge the greatness and holiness of God and accept our place in creation. “What a man is before God, that he is and nothing more” St. Francis reminds us. Francis also responded to God in humility by realizing that we are all made of the same stuff as the rest of creation; there is not a separate human substance; we are made out of the dust of the Earth. Because of this, we are all brothers and sisters to all of creation and Francis composed the Canticle of the Sun as a hymn of praise to God through all of the elements of creation.

In Act III we will explore how as a result of Act I and II, we respond to each other in humility. In Mark 12:30, Jesus quotes the Mosaic Law found in Deut 6:4 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength….and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said that in this is found the whole of the law. The first half of that teaching reflects Act II, our response to God. The second half leads us to Act III, our response to each other.

Article 13 of the Secular Franciscan Rule binds those who profess it “As the Father sees in every person the features of his Son, the first-born of many brothers and sisters, so the Secular Franciscans with a gentle and courteous spirit accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.” It does not say only those who believe what I believe, live where I live, go to the Church where I belong; all people. This is one of my favorite articles of the rule, not because I live up to it, but because it is hard and challenging. It calls us to the ideal that Jesus calls us to live, to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; (Gen 1:27) Realizing this should make all of us tremble with fear. If we are created in the image of God, and if God joined his nature to ours through the incarnation, then every interaction I have with any person is an interaction with Christ. Do I treat all people as if it were Jesus standing before me? And do I allow, in humility, others to treat me as if I were Christ to them, when I am sick or in need of help?

In St. Bonaventure’s biography of St. Francis, he relates the story of St. Francis encountering a leper. Lepers in the time of Francis were the lowest of society, banned to live outside of the community. Francis had a loathing for lepers. One day, Francis was out riding and encountered a leper on the road. He overcame his fear and loathing and embraced and kissed the leper. When he had done this, Francis related that what was once loathsome to him had become sweet as honey. As the story is told, Francis, after having embraced the leper turned back and the leper was no longer there. He came to realize that it was Christ, come to Francis under the guise of a leper. For Francis, this was a pivotal moment. From that time on, he served all people with humility, seeing in his service to everyone service to Christ.

I have come to believe that there are no “chance” encounters or coincidence. God sends people into our lives each day. It may appear to be a chance encounter, but how we interact with that person is an interaction with Christ. Did I curse them? Did I ignore them? Did that person encounter Christ in me? How will I be held accountable for my interaction with those God sends to me each day?

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:31 and following, Jesus teaches us that there are those who will be admitted to the kingdom of God because they acted in charity towards others, and that there will be those who called him “Lord” who will not enter the kingdom because they did not act in charity towards others. All throughout the Gospels we encounter Jesus, over and over again reaching out in charity towards others; healing, forgiving, teaching, encouraging, admonishing.

Franciscan friar Dan Horan, OFM, in an address to the national gathering of Secular Franciscans in 2013 taught that true humility entails being in “relationship” with others. To truly be in relationship with another is to “meet them where they are at.” When we meet people where they are it enables us to enter into a relationship with that person, to be less judgmental. It enables us to introduce them to Jesus and help them enter into relationship with Jesus. It enables us to act with justice towards others.

The Gospels have many examples of Jesus meeting people where they are at, and in that encounter he heals, forgives, changes lives and saves. Some examples include the Samaritan women at the well, the woman caught in adultery, calling a tax collector to discipleship, the story of the good Samaritan, he eats with tax collectors and sinners, he touches lepers, the sick, the dying, the dead, widows, orphans, priests, kings and scholars of the law.

The love Jesus calls us to in the Gospels is agape. Agape is the Greek word for love that means “servant” love. It is a love that is not about emotion and feelings, but about serving the needs of another because they are made in the image of God. Christian social justice is all about treating all people with dignity deserving of being made in God’s image. In contrast is the Greek word phileo which is the word for the love of affection and emotion. The Gospel of John has a great story of Jesus meeting someone where he is at with the play on the Greek words agape and phileo. We see this in John 21:15 and following. Here is the encounter between Jesus and Peter. The English language does not do this story justice, as there is only one word for love. I am going to take the story, from the New American Bible translation and put in the Greek words Agape and Phileo where they were used in the original Greek. Notice the change in meaning as you read the story.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you AGAPE me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I PHILEO you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you AGAPE me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I PHILEO you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you PHILEO me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you PHILEO me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I PHILEO you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This is an interesting story when taking into account the different meaning of the words agape and phileo. Twice Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him with a servant’s love, and Peter responded that he had an affectionate love of Jesus. The third time Jesus asks Peter if he has the affectionate love designated by phileo. Jesus met Peter where he was at. Peter still had some growing to do in his relationship with Jesus, and in spite of that, Jesus confirmed him as the head of the disciples. In the end, Peter loved Jesus with a servant’s love, and loved him to his death through his martyrdom. This story gives me great hope. Faith is not emotion. I can still love the Lord, even if I don’t feel the affection and emotion. I can love my neighbor as myself without having affection for him. How often do we hear Christians lament that they don’t “feel” the presence of God? They worship, they serve and they despair because they do not “phileo” when what we are called to is “agape”.

Loving the Lord with agape, not expecting phileo in return is humility. When I agape my neighbor it is a direct result of God’s movement to me in humility and my response in praise, adoration and thanksgiving to God. Agape is born of the dance of humility between God and creature.

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Written by
David Seitz