Humility isn’t easy.
In fact, it is likely the most difficult (and painful) of all the spiritual virtues.
Nevertheless, the way of salvation is imbued with humility, and every snare of the evil one is meant to drag us away from this virtue and into the arms of pride. Becoming a Christian and acquiring humility goes hand-in-hand.
Not surprisingly, the true image of humility—and even humiliation—is found in the person of Jesus Christ. In all his actions, words, and thoughts, Christ has laid before us a pattern of humility for us not only to appreciate, but also to imitate and embody in our own lives as his people.
Whether one’s desire is to be a great leader of people or the most humble of servants, following Christ’s example of humility is the way, the truth, and the life. Poor leaders always lack humility; poor employees always lack humility; poor spouses always lack humility; every person in this life that “misses the mark” or falls short of their calling as a human being—as one created in the image of God—does so due to a lack of true humility.
Thankfully, for our salvation, Christ demonstrates this true humility in a number of tangible ways.
For example, in “willing to be incarnate for our salvation,” Christ showed humble subjection as the Son to the Father. Preserving the monarchical hierarchy of the Trinity (which is a pattern found replicated in all proper relationships, both here and in eternity), our Lord “did not count equality with God [the Father] a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:6–7). In all of our relationships, this willingness to not grasp for more—to take the form of a servant and be humbled, even humiliated, for the sake of others—is the heart of either success or failure.
The backwards cries of non-Christian culture today is to reach for more, to take what is yours, and to demand what you deserve. This demand for what the world falsely calls “equality” is from the devil, as the reposed Fr. Alexander Schmemann once uttered, as it proceeds entirely from envy. An envious desire to be more than God has graciously provided—to eat the fruit of the tree and question the wisdom of God—is the antithesis of humility; it is the antithesis of Christ.
Furthermore, Christ demonstrates true humility in his death, as “he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). And what, then, is the result of such humility?
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. —Phil. 2:9–11
While the pseudo wisdom of the world tells us to seek glory, Christ shows us that it is a pursuit of humility that leads to true glory; even to the glory of God.
One last example of Christ’s true humility is found in the Gospel:
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
There is a lot going on here—and multiple interpretations and applications can be derived from this story—but for now, I simply want to focus on the example set for both us today and the apostles there present.
In first century Palestine, just as today, people wash their hands before supper. That was rather common, and even ceremonial in the case of faithful Jews. But Christ takes it one step further, washing the most vile and filthy part of those who wear sandals everywhere they walk.
When the master does the work of a servant, he is demonstrating true humility. Rather than grasping for his own, or demanding more than he deserves, the humble person shows everyone he encounters—from the least to the greatest—that they have value; that they matter; that they are just as important, if not more so, than we are.
In commending them to go and do likewise, our Lord has bestowed upon the great apostles of the Church a commandment of humility—men who would drive away demons, cure sickness, and even raise the dead; men for whom children, churches, schools, and cities are still named; men for whom the Son of Man came to live and die and rise again.
Of course, humility is an obvious aspect of love; they are intimately connected. And if we have not love, we have nothing.