“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:12)

The above verse from Matthew’s Gospel (featured in the Lectionary for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time) follows Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees (and scribes) for failing to put their preaching into practice.

What does it mean to be humble? Is it about putting yourself down? No! Is it about being self-deprecating? No! Is it about dwelling on your faults? No! In the Salesian tradition, humility is about knowing your place -and having the courage to take it.

From Jesus’ perspective, the root of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy was the fact that they were not humble – that is, they had forgotten their place.

If they had been humble, the Pharisees would have used their place and power in this world to draw attention to God. If they had been humble, the Pharisees would have used their place and power in this world to improve the plight of their brothers and sisters. Instead, the Pharisees used their place and power in this world to draw attention to themselves. Instead, the Pharisees used their place and power in this world to weigh others down.

Perhaps C.S. Lewis has folks like the Pharisees in mind when he observed:

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud person always looks down on things and other people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see anything that is above you.” 

By contrast, Jesus is the epitome what it means to be humble. He never thought less of himself. He never put himself down. Jesus knew his place. Jesus had the courage to take his place – with courage, with zeal, with tenacity and with determination. Jesus used his place and power in this world not to draw attention to himself but to lead people to his Father. Jesus used his place and power in this world not to put others down but to raise people up. And to the extent that we imitate Jesus’ humility, we will share in Jesus’ glory.

God, give us the wisdom to understand this truth:

“Real humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself – less.”