Gentle and Humble of Heart
Gospel Reflection for July 9, 2023 - Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus said openly, Father, who art Lord of heaven and earth, I give thee praise that thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to little children.
Be it so, Father, since this finds favour in thy sight.
My Father has entrusted everything into my hands; none knows the Son truly except the Father, and none knows the Father truly except the Son, and those to whom it is the Son’s good pleasure to reveal him.
Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened; I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon yourselves, and learn from me; I am gentle and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30 Knox Translation)
In this Gospel reading, Our Lord reveals a virtue which was not recognized by the ancient pagans as a virtue but rather as a curse, and while the Hebrews did have more appreciation for it, they also saw some of its worldly effects as curses. This virtue is humility. Although charity is the crown and perfection of all the virtues, the sign of faith and the substance of the divine life and sanctifying grace infused into the soul at Baptism, it could be argued that humility is in fact the most fundamental virtue. Without humility, all the other virtues are inevitably corrupted into vices through pride, making charity inaccessible as the light it shines in our heart becomes clouded by selfishness. Pride desires to be God apart from God. This is the original sin of Satan and his demons, rooted in their envy of Christ’s divinized humanity, and it was also the original sin of Adam and Eve, who thought that they, through their own initiative, could “be like gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gn 3:5) Humility is the submission of the intellect, will and body to the truth of reality – it is not self-hatred or the modest denial of one’s own good qualities. Instead, humility is the clear recognition that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator of all things, that than which nothing greater can be conceived, the infinite and divine Source of all perfection as ipsum esse subsistens, from whom all creatures receive any of their good attributes and none of their privations.
In many ways, it could be said that humility was the primary virtue which the Son of God became incarnate to reveal, as our first reading this Sunday prophesied. St. Paul thus wrote:
Yours is to be the same mind which Christ Jesus shewed. His nature is, from the first, divine, and yet he did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted; he dispossessed himself, and took the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and presenting himself to us in human form; and then he lowered his own dignity, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross. That is why God has raised him to such a height, given him that name which is greater than any other name; so that everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth must bend the knee before the name of Jesus, and every tongue must confess Jesus Christ as the Lord, dwelling in the glory of God the Father. (Philip 2:5-11)
The humility of Christ is truly incomprehensible and sometimes escapes the notice of lifelong Christians, yet for Jews and Muslims it is the greatest “sign which men will refuse to acknowledge” (Lk 2:34) – how could God, the infinity of perfection and Creator of all things, willingly and lovingly elect to take on the lowliness of human flesh, submitting to the care and protection of His human parents, feeding from His blessed mother’s breast, bathed and held by His righteous father, threatened by the feeble powers of the secular rulers which He Himself had given them (Rom 13:1) and the misguided judgments of those who professed to follow His Law? He lived in relative poverty and obscurity throughout His childhood, and “advanced in wisdom with the years, and in favour both with God and with men.” (Lk 2:52) He then ministered to those whom society, both Jew and Gentile, considered to be worthless and bereft of all value and hope, the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans and Romans themselves, forgiving sins, healing sicknesses and raising the dead. And what was His earthly reward? Mockery, ridicule, torture, the abandonment and betrayal of His closest friends and the curse of Crucifixion: “From this curse invoked by the law Christ has ransomed us, by himself becoming, for our sakes, an accursed thing; we read that, There is a curse on the man who hangs on a gibbet.” (Gal 3:13)
Through His own teaching and that of His apostles, Christ taught that the path to Heaven through Himself is by humility, the utter submission of oneself to God in charity. From this virtue extends the meekness and patience to suffer for Christ’s sake, the courage to endure every affliction and to always stand up for the truth of the Gospel against the deceptions and seductions of the world and the temperance to discipline the passions of the flesh and train ourselves for spiritual warfare against the demonic princes of this age. The Wisdom of God is given to the “little ones.” Only they, the humble, whose innocence and simplicity keep them open to the surprises of God like a child, are given the divine Wisdom of the Gospel. For the “wise” of the world, who judge everything by what seems “probable” according to their calculations or experiences, the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ seem utterly foolish, as they did to the rulers who condemned Him; many who claim to be Christians nevertheless live according to this mentality, ignoring the supernatural and failing to stand up for Christ. For this reason, those who wish to be His disciples today and to convert others to Him must become humble, accepting the mysteries of God in Scripture, in the Sacraments and in our daily lives and to live according to His will even when it seems foolish to the world and to our own supposedly “mature” pragmatism. Otherwise, we will be condemned along with the world to which we cling:
You must not deceive yourselves, any of you, about this. If any of you thinks he is wise, after the fashion of his fellow men, he must turn himself into a fool, so as to be truly wise. This world’s wisdom, with God, is but folly. So we read in scripture, I will entrap the wise with their own cunning. And again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, and how empty they are. (1 Cor 3:18-20)
Pride entails only slavery to sin while humility reveals the total preeminence and victory of God. When we are willing to subsume everything to Christ, even our own lives, the world will inevitably take notice, and while this will include persecution, for which we should be thankful as Christ’s heralds, (Mt 5:11) it will also shake people out of their complacency and force them to examine their own lives and ask themselves: what am I living for? As St. Augustine wrote:
Whence does iniquity abound? From pride. Cure pride and there will be no more iniquity. Consequently, that the cause of all diseases might be cured, namely, pride, the Son of God came down and was made low. Why are you proud, O man? God, for you, became low. You would perhaps be ashamed to imitate a lowly man; at any rate, imitate the lowly God. The Son of God came in the character of a man and was made low.