|Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop
Psalms 42:2, 3, 5
Luke 14:1, 7-11
There are several passages besides Luke, Chapter 14, in which Jesus either responds to requests for places of honor or makes observations of how persons of status choose the most prestigious places. But it doesn't seem to me that Jesus begrudges anyone the satisfaction of honor. Rather, I think, he is concerned about our lack of humility and whether we know how to honor him in our lives.
I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, growing up as a German-American Lutheran in a rural community in Northeast Iowa, norms defining honor and humility were central cultural themes. We were taught to honor our God-fearing parents who lost no opportunity to remind us of the shame of exalting oneself. Our German speaking Amish neighbors have words for the difference between an attitude of being humble ("damut") and an attitude of thinking too highly of one's self ("hochmut"). And while we no longer speak German, we were taught what those words meant, or at least folks thought they meant. Looking back, I think a lot of us had a sort of negative view of what humility was supposed to be. Now, as a cultural anthropologist, I look at some of those teachings and how people use them to share their faith and wonder how much of it is obscured by negative thinking.
Where I come from, a lot of German-American Lutherans think humility is what somebody who has more status and honor than you is lacking. There is a lot of emphasis on "leveling" of status in small rural communities. I think sometimes people use the distinction between "damut" and "hochmut" as a way to discourage each other from trying to make something of themselves or getting too high their hopes of better things to come. These views sometimes get in the way of joyfully proclaiming Christ in our lives.
So how do we honor Christ without exalting ourselves? I think the stream of consciousness writing style that the Apostle Paul uses in Philemon reveals how he works through this problem. Paul could have easily been the kind of German-American Lutheran who taught me the principles of faith, for he chooses to remain in the flesh rather than the honor of dying to be with Christ. We rationalize, as does Paul, that to remain in the flesh is more necessary on the amount of fruitful labor. So we work hard and encourage each other to stay humble.
Those cultural interpretations of Scripture are not really in error, but they may not allow us to focus on the positive dimensions of our faith. I think my German-American rural community culture taught me correctly that we do not proclaim Christ best when all is well with our lives because some see that as pretense. Rather, we proclaim Christ in truth when our struggles and challenges are greatest, when we are most humbled. There is great wisdom and truth in beginning with shame and taking the lowest place. But in many rural communities, people get discouraged when the challenges of life bring experiences of shame and downward mobility. People can lose sight of joy in the faith through humbling experiences. This humility without joy can become a cultural norm that does little to proclaim Christ.
But not everyone sees it that way. Surprisingly, the Amish, with their cultural emphasis on "damut" taught me that humility and joyfulness could be experienced at the same time. I think Paul tells us that Christ is honored, not just by our humility, but also by our courage to proclaim him so that others might also find joy in the faith. I observed this in the Amish. They combine courage with joyfulness in their expression of humility. It is not through an elegant theology of deprivation that they demonstrate the wisdom of humility, but through the witness of their lives.
My experience here at Creighton offers the wisdom of yet another
cultural perspective. I've observed that Jesuit cultural traditions
are also centered on humility, but there is a strong emphasis on combining
courage with joy in proclaiming Christ. At the risk of thinking too
highly of myself and uttering what some folks back in Iowa might think
is a heresy, I will share that I think it is an honor to be here.
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