Thursday, May 21, 2009

Humility 3
In the previous blog, we looked at the 'parable' of the sheep and the goats. Jesus said, among other things, "I was in prison and you visited me". We tend to forget this aspect of the story. You see it is easier to identify with those who were sick, or who were poor, or were homeless but when it comes to people in prison we tend to become uncomfortable. I think that for many Christian men and woman, the thought of people in prison being regarded in any positive light is practically an anathema.
  • Didn't they deserve to be in prison, hadn't they committed some crime that meant that they should be there and not in society at large?
  • Aren't they despicable creatures who deserve our contempt?

I would simply ask would Jesus have that attitude.

Firstly, NOT everyone who is in prison is truly guilty of what they have been accused of. Even in our modern, scientifically advanced world, miscarriages of justice happen all the time. Occasionally, but very seldom, do the rich members of society, actually fall prey to the system, and serve time behind bars. They use their ill-gotten gain – to employ the services of slick lawyers – who manage to get their clients off scot free. On the other side of the coin, a poor person, who may be genuinely innocent, can find themselves in a mess, and the defence lawyer assigned to them, to plead their case may or may not believe them, but who will make a half-hearted attempt but not be too bothered if they lose the case and the person is sent down. (I realise that I am generalising and that there are probably many very dedicated defence counsels who work tirelessly to see justice done for their client even if that client cannot afford to pay the legal fees. ) However the big picture is that people are not all equal before the law – except in the constitutions – and that justice is dispensed differently depending on one's status in life.

Secondly, many are kept in prison, who have not had their day in court, or their opportunity to 'face justice'. According to the Human Rights Charter, ap erson is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately for many who are imprisoned, the presumption of innocence is easily forgotten by those who read the newspapers.

SO, who are we to judge those people in prison? Jesus is calling us to show compassion. Can we look the other way, when reports come out of over-crowded prison cells, people living in inhumane conditions.

Some would say, Prison is supposed to be hard – its supposed to send a message that “If you do the crime – you must do the time.” and all other such harsh statements. We forget that amongst those who are thrown into prison are those who are prisoners of conscience – that is, they are there because of their faith.

In many communist countries, people are jailed because of their faith. That may not be the case, at the moment in the UK, or the USA, but the time is coming when to mention the name of Jesus will be a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment or death. Already we see signs of this in that people can lose their jobs because they offer to pray for a patient whom they are treating, or they wearing a cross on a chain around their neck. I was listening to the radio one night and the presenter was going off the deep-end because somebody dared to preach the Gospel on the tube, in his hearing. He was so offended.

It is easy to stand in judgement over people without slightest understanding of what brought them to that place. I am not advocating that we stop putting people in prison, and that because justice is unequal it should not be exercised. On the contrary, a vast number of cases that are brought to court are dealt with justly and the perpetrators of crime dealt with appropriately. But just because someone is in prison, does not mean that we ought to despise them or view ourselves as superior. Jesus, the one who committed no crime, was unjustly accused, and found guilty in an illegal court. When he was taken to the 'legitimate' court of Pontius Pilate – Pilate admitted that he found no fault in Jesus, and yet he buckled under public pressure and granted the wish of the 'people' to have Him crucified. There was no justice in the case of Jesus trial and sentencing – but there was justice because Jesus took our place on that cross that day.

On that same night that Jesus washed the disciples feet he said to them: “A new commandment I give – that you LOVE one another as I have loved you. People will know that you are my disciples because of your love for one another.”

I look on Facebook and I see lots of big “I am a CHRISTIAN kind of banners and groups, etc. People have bumper stickers for their cars, and the one of course is the famous fish. But Jesus said, “They shall know you are my disciples by your love." I am not saying that we have to go to the other extreme and be all secretive about it. I am not even condemning the group, the banners, or the stickers, I'm just saying that if it is all about an external show – then perhaps we have missed the point of this command. How does that kind of love show itself in our communities? Jesus said to the sheep you saw me as a stranger, and you welcomed me in.

I was talking to a man the other day, and he told me of a church that dealt very uncharitably with a friend of his – he said she had special needs and that someone in the Church told her not to come back because she 'stank to high heaven.' The attitude of that person stank to high heavens, and no doubt caused a stench in the nose of our Lord. The poor person came out of the church devastated.

I don't become a police officer by merely putting on the uniform – I have to actually do the work of a police officer. Not all police wear uniforms – and definitely police do not wear the uniform all the time. However, even when a police officer is off duty – they never cease to be police – and in an emergency – they are ready to pick up their role at a moment's notice. They may be out and, happen to notice or become aware a crime being committed. They may not show their true colours but will act to bring the situation under control.

In a similar way, a Christian does not cease being a Christian when they are at work, or just at home relaxing. They may not be 'in Church' or some religious rally. They may not be doing religious stuff, but Jesus didn't say “they shall know you are my disciples by your religious activity. “ No a Christian is a Christian all the time and even when he/she 'is not on duty' he keeps an eye open for opportunities to SERVE his fellow human and show love to them, for it is by that that the world may know we are Jesus disciples.
Sadly, how often do you hear a person say words to the effect of “I won't become a Christian, Christians are hypocrites.” Instead of being drawn in by our love for one another, people are repelled by the hypocrisy that they see in the Church.

Pride is at root of hypocrisy.

Humility on the other hand is the essence of reality.

I am sure that ther si a lot more that can be said on this subject, but for now - I leave it there. I hope however, that you don't. I hope that you take this word, and apply it to your life in whatever way is necessary.

1 comment:

David Bertram said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the thoughts on humility on your blog. I am a member of the Third Order of St Francis, and we try to follow Christ in the way of Francis. Our main values are humility, love, and joy. That doesn’t mean we succeed in these areas.

Some thoughts on the subject:

‘Humility’ comes from ‘humus’, the soil, the lowest that we can get, trodden on by everyone else. That doesn’t mean being a doormat for people to scrape their feet on, it means submission to and respect for others, while maintaining one’s personal integrity. You have pointed out some of the examples and teachings of Jesus. Another is Philippians 2:5-8:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

One of Charles Dickens’ characters in the book ‘David Copperfield’ is Uriah Heep. He was a model of false humility, who professed to be humble, but when the crunch came, and he could have exhibited true humility, showed nothing but pride and scorn.

Part of humility is submission and obedience in appropriate ways. The opposite of humility is pride which exalts self and exhibits condemnation.

One of the popes used to keep a vagrant in his rooms. Every day he would take off his papal robes and go to the vagrant and feed him and wash him and let the vagrant curse him. This is going too far, but it shows a humble spirit.

The best humility is invisible. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It is content not to be noticed. It leaves other people feeling good, because they have been boosted. Francis of Assisi was a model of humility, and we try to follow his example.

I don’t think I am a stunning example of humility. The only people who see humility are those who receive its blessings. And it is usually found together with love and joy.

God bless,