In the movie “Sweet Home Alabama,” the female lead Melanie Smooter (Reese Witherspoon) from Alabama, has a successful career in New York as a fashion designer, however, she changed her name to Melanie Carmichael. As the movie progresses, it’s obvious she’s ashamed of her birth state, since her move to the mental state of hoity-toity. Plenty of fictional stories and true stories stem from the theme of embarrassment because of one’s heritage, family, or education level.
This week, we’re considering the fifth rule for humble living, written by Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). In his words, “Never be ashamed of thy birth, or thy parents, or thy trade,or thy present employment, for the meanness or poverty of any of them.” Taylor gave one example of a monarch who kept a reminder of his humble beginnings: Primislaus, the first king of Bohemia, kept his country-shoes always by him, to remember his humble beginnings.
The setting in Matthew 18 and Luke 9, finds the disciples of Jesus, adult men, arguing about who will be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. In addition, in Mark 10, the disciples James and John asked for positions of power, to sit on the right hand and left hand of Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to be advisors to God as we so often do.
Jesus provided the perfect application lesson for his disciples when he called a child into their midst. His kingdom was out of this world, not like the hierarchies of that day or ours. His would be an upside-down kingdom, where those who had child-like spirits would reign -- no ruling over subjects, everyone equal in service to each other. Background or status simply wouldn’t matter.
Jesus was a master teacher when using visual aids. Among a group of hearty, enthusiastic, hardworking men, Jesus called attention to a child to aid their understanding. This became a multi-layered teaching moment, but today, we’ll consider one aspect: the mindset of a young child, who is content to be alive. A child doesn’t care where they were born or if his parents are uneducated, poor, or unattractive. The little one hasn’t rubbed elbows with the world long enough to become tainted by false values.
A child remains content to fulfill childhood destiny, to live, learn, and thrive where they are. They do not seek acclaim. They aren’t hiding their heritage or parentage. They have no occupation other than to abide and do what children do. Unencumbered by supposed symbols of success (money, power, rank), they rely upon their caretakers and for a few short years they naturally live out humility. Still lowly in status, God stays near. The kingdom is near to them for the lowliest is the closest to God.
Fix in your mind the picture of a ladder, with humility representing the bottom rung and pride and self-exaltation representing the highest rung. Imagine a young boy who starts out at the lowest rung, humble by nature of his age and innocence. However as the world influences that child, he begins to see that birthright, education, and rank can move him up the ladder, and he begins to want to look good in the eyes of his fellowman. At some point in that young man’s life, he may see that Jesus calls him to climb down the ladder, back down to the lowest rung.
While our imaginary boy may attain rank and a higher education and acquire wealth, he finds true strength in not calling attention to them. His battle to stay on the lowest rung, being the least in the kingdom of God, serving instead of being served will be a lifelong calling, a lifelong struggle. Climbing down, after achieving much in life, will be difficult but well worth the many efforts. Why? Because peace, sleep, and wisdom come as gifts to those who embrace God’s kingdom morals.
In a parable about a wedding guest, Jesus advised the guest to sit in the lowliest seat because if the guest chose the best seat in the house a person of higher rank might come in and the host would ask the guest to move to a lowlier place. However, if the guest chose a lowly seat to begin with, he wouldn’t have to move unless the host decided to honor the guest with a better seat.
As you go about during Lenten, remember: never be ashamed of your family and do nothing to shame your family. Keep your feet anchored on that lower rung.
Hunger for Humility (12): For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org