At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then he called a little child over to sit among the disciples, and said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who humble themselves like this little child will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” – Matthew 18:1-7
Humility isn’t in vogue in our culture. Even more than competence, outright hubris can now win the day. Humility is for losers with low self-esteem, and we love winners.
But what might win elections and promotions is not what wins God’s heart. Jesus rejects those who are seeking to be “the greatest” and instead opens his arms up to those who “humble themselves” like children.
In certain circles I’ve traveled in, ones where power and privilege are not the norm, I’ve heard the concept of humility dismissed. I get why. When you are a part of a group that has been oppressed or treated as “less than,” someone telling you to be humble seems particularly unhelpful. Many groups have, rightfully, claimed the concept of “pride” as an antidote.
But being proud and being humble are not opposites. You can, and should, absolutely believe that you are a beloved child of God, created by God and profoundly gifted. No one is inherently more worthy than you.
But the problem comes when you begin to believe that you are more worthy than others.
True humility is not about thinking of yourself as less than others. True humility is knowing that you are equally worthy, and that every good gift you have been given is not for yourself but for others.
What we learned, and somehow better understood, about how to treat one another when we were children still applies. And even if it doesn’t win the day in the board room or on the ballot, that child-like virtue still wins God’s heart every time.
God, help me to love myself exactly as you made me, and help me to be humble enough that I may love others. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.