“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
In Jesus’ time, untying the strap of someone’s sandal was one of the most demeaning acts for a person; the act of untying a sandal was something a servant did for his master. It is the ultimate statement of humility when John says that he is not worthy to untie the sandal of, “the one who is coming,” namely, Jesus.
Humility is something that I believe most, if not all, people struggle with. When I hear someone receive a compliment and they reply by saying that they are “humbled”, it makes me stop and think: Are they really humbled? Or is that just a figure of speech that people have gotten into the habit of saying? Because to me, to be humbled by a compliment means that a person receiving the compliment does not let the comment affect what they think about themselves-whether that be for better or for worse.
When a person is truly humbled, they realize that what they have done or who they are is bigger than themselves. They recognize that who they are is a product of the way they were raised, the experiences they have had, and the gifts that God has blessed them with. When someone allows themselves to be humbled, they recognize that they are not the most important thing in the world; they are no better than anyone else.
I think that our society struggles with finding the humility John portrays in this gospel reading because so many times we are told, if you work hard and you are a good person, you will be rewarded, and those rewards you receive, you deserve. But I struggle with the question: does anyone really deserve anything besides those things that assist them in living with dignity? Because how much do we really do to deserve these things? For example, I grew up in a loving, financially stable family and therefore I had the ability to receive a quality high school education, and am now currently continuing that education at Creighton. But did I deserve that education any more than someone who grew up in an abusive household that was financially unstable and didn’t have the resources to give their child any college education? I’d say no because I am no better than that other person. Therefore I am humbled when my parents say, “I’m so proud of how well you’re doing in school and in the person you’ve become Haley.” I am able to be humbled by a compliment like this because I know that how well I do in school, and the person I am, is partly due to factors that were completely outside of my control.
If we keep the mentality of not deserving things, but rather being grateful for what we have, and keeping in mind that we are no better than any other person, then we will have a much easier time being humble. Our humility will aid in our journey to build the Kingdom of God on earth. We must remember that everyone comes from dust and that in the end we all return to dust. It is through this realization that we are able to recognize the inherent equality of all people and therefore find the humility that John so powerfully portrays.