Rev. William “Geoff” Smith Provides Us With Answers

Thomas Aquinas defines pride as an “inordinate desire for preeminence.” What this means is that an individual assesses themselves as beyond the need for improvement or desires to be more honored than appropriate for the good which they possess. Examples of this include a student wishing to be over-complimented for good grades, a teacher wishing to be honored as though he were a king or a despot, or somebody who thinks they have nothing to learn. The opposite of pride is humility, which is an appropriate level of self-esteem based on true knowledge of oneself and the world. Jesus makes clear that such humility is a pre-requisite for entry into his kingdom:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

What is curious about this passage is that children are known and were known for the propensity to ask lots of questions. For instance, Jesus, as a boy, was known for the quality of questions he asked the Pharisees. So when Jesus says to become like a child, he means, “You must start over as a new person to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again and learn from me!” The disciple asked a question in the passage above, but not the sort asked by a child. Children ask to learn. The disciples asked to be affirmed. How do we know? Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explains that whoever practices and teaches his commands will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). So the disciples want Jesus to keep score and prove which one is the best. Jesus re-frames the question entirely to indicate that they all must take a novice’s point of view to make spiritual progress. If we must humble ourselves, how do we do it? I have three tips from the Bible:
  1. First, remember that we are dust (Genesis 2:7). Anything could kill us. Any change in nature could affect us. Our hunger changes our attitude, our sleep changes our emotions, our exercises changes our thoughts, and our memories change our actions. We’re truly of the earth. To remember this helps us to see how much we need God.
  2. Second, we should remember that all our highest aspects come from God (also Genesis 2:7). Our consciousness, aspirations, capacity to choose right or wrong, and change our environment for better or worse come from God. To remember this shows us how much good, by God’s grace, and help the human being is capable of, while still reminding us of how much we need God’s help to not devolve into chaos and evil.
  3. Finally, we have the example of Christ, who humbled himself, taking the form of a man (Phil 2:5-11). Not only does Christ’s death atone for our sins, which we desperately need, but it also functions as the example of humility. Christ did not consider himself above service to others, even if they were sinful or undeserving.