My intention is not to decry, but if it appears so inadvertently, do believe me when I say that I mean to speak as a preacher ought: never with narrow-minded particularity but instead, prophetically, reflecting on the state of humankind, including you and me.
Please observe that I begin in a positive fashion, as Jesus admonished over and over, as in the parable in Luke 14 about the impolite guests at a banquet. They rush to the best seats but then have to be asked, despite the embarrassment, to sit lower to make room for someone more important. And as in Luke 18, the parable of the self-proclaimed devout Pharisee and the not-so-humble tax-collector whom Jesus lifts up.
As disciples, we must remember and be guided by the words of the Savior: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
We should also recall how the Great Apostle Paul, with autumnal wisdom, possibly in chains, articulated this principle “in action” in chapter 2 of his Letter to the Philippians: Christ Jesus “took the form of a servant,” and “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefor God highly exalted him.”
Some of you know that I came to the pulpit after decades of fast-track law practice, business management and consultancy. In retrospect, like Naaman of Old Testament account (chapter 5 of 2 Kings), I have observed that the greatest guidance, the greatest truths, and the surest path to subsistence and possibly even success lies in humbly “getting over oneself” and listening to the truly humble — like the servant girl who advised the leprous military commander Naaman that “there is a (true healing) prophet in Israel,” like the “balm in Gilead“ of Jeremiah 8: 22.
And what use is there in surrounding oneself with “yes men,” or with countless founts of great wisdom, without the humble wisdom, the complementary wisdom, to listen and to heed.
Old Testament and New, Gospel and apostolic commentary, all attest that there is power in humility.
Humility reassures one’s interlocutor — or for that matter, the body politic — of the purity of one’s motives. Humility, like love for another or others in the plural, casts out fear. Humility reassures that there is room for dominant, super-ego beyond oneself.
I suggest that we all need to heed the admonishment of the old Spiritual, ”Humble, humble, humble … You better get your humble, humble, humble … O humble in my soul … Listen while I tell you ‘bout chapter one” and so on.
I have studied in some of the most esteemed academic halls in our nation, but when I think of the value of humility commended by Scripture, I think of the truly humble of the several communities in the “hurricane alley” of the Caribbean, where it was my privilege to minister and, more importantly, to learn — from the endangered and the afflicted — great lessons of faith, resilience and humility, unalloyed and unquestioning, in the face of our Almighty God.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., K.St.J., is Priest Scholar and Chaplain at Washington National Cathedral and previously was Bishop’s Dean and Sub-Dean and Priest in Charge in congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands (U.S. and U.K.)