The Paradox of Humility

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Feast of St. James

Matthew 20:20-28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Opening Prayer: Jesus, you are all powerful and yet perfectly humble. Please open my mind to hear the Word and let it convert my pride into humility. 

Encountering Christ:

  1. “My Kingdom Is Not Here”: The mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, did not understand what Jesus’s kingdom would be like. Many of his disciples also misunderstood. They thought that Jesus would come to destroy the Romans’ political power and reign as king. But, as Jesus told Pontius Pilate during the Passion, “My Kingdom does not belong to this world. If my Kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not here” (John 18:36). Jesus’s Kingdom is so much more than earthly power. He holds the keys to the infinite universe! And he has invited us to join him in heaven one day. Thy Kingdom come, Lord Jesus.
  2. Driven for Greatness: Society tells us to strive to be successful and hold positions of power. The world recognizes success as having a great career and plenty of money to live comfortably. But God’s economy is different, even paradoxical. Jesus told the people, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Spiritual director and author Fr. Jacque Philippe wrote, “Humility is truth. I am what I am in God’s eyes: a poor child who possesses absolutely nothing, who receives everything, infinitely loved and totally free.” When our sense of self is firmly rooted in the truth–that we are beloved children of God–we do not need to puff ourselves up, or rely on anything worldly to make us “great.”
  3. Jesus, Our Servant?: Jesus told us, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” He gave us a vivid illustration of what he meant when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Yet, all of his life was, in fact, an act of service. He was born for us; lived as a human being for our sakes; suffered, died, and was buried; instituted the Church; and is preparing a place for us in heaven one day (John 14:2-3). What will we do for him today?

Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, I cannot do away with my pride on my own. Please walk with me so that I might learn to walk humbly with you. You washed the Apostles’ feet on Holy Thursday (John 13:1-17). Thank you for showing us how we are to care for our brothers and sisters by choosing the most humble jobs and doing them for the glory of God. Help me to always make the humble choice, and so imitate you. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace, I will choose a humble job without complaint or seeking to be recognized for it.

For Further Reflection: Prayerfully read Philippians 2:1-11 and reflect on how Jesus’s humble obedience and service are connected to his glorification and power. 

Written by Carey Boyzuck.

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