Humility, it’s hard to find, especially in the middle of an election cycle, a constant state of bombastic overpromise and underdeliver. In each of the readings today we are told to foster a character of humility. Yet it is cross-cultural to today’s agenda. Is it because we confuse humility with meekness and meekness with giving up our rights or point of view, which we further confuse with weakness?
Meekness—in it’s biblical form—is not being a pushover. It means power, but directed power and instead of choosing to exercise power on our own behalf, it is exercising power on behalf of the disenfranchised and those in need. In the Responsorial Psalm that means “the orphaned, the widowed, the forsaken and the imprisoned.”
In the Alleluia, Christ asks us to wear his yoke and learn from him, he who is “meek and humble of heart.” A yoke fit the most important animal in the pastoral society world in which Jesus lived. Jesus would know a lot about yokes, he was a craftsman, far more than a carpenter. Joseph was a carpenter, but that was also the term for construction worker. Jesus was known for his craftsmanship. A craftsman would not be the one to call to do basic building, he would be brought in to carve an ornate frame for a load-bearing door or a yoke for a team of oxen. Keep in mind, this powerful animal was the most expensive tool of the common person. The yoke had to be perfect for you would not want these animals to blister while out working your fields. A blister would lead to an infection and soon to the animal’s incapacitation.
The yoke Jesus wants us to wear is also well-fit [Matthew 11:30], some translations say “easy” but this is a misnomer. Anyone who has seen farm animals at work knows better than to think the work is easy. We are not promised an easy life, but a challenging life that is well-fit to our character and abilities.
Historically, it takes far more strength to remain humble than to be prideful. Think of the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez or Mother Teresa. They did not attempt to stand like a proud stone in the bed of the rapids of a river. Rather, they were like the water—adapting to the stone bed but consistent in direction—establishing rights for the defenseless, frequently attacked by the cultural forces opposing them.
Humble people often prefer to be measured for their deeds rather than their words. They would prefer you to look at what they’ve done in the past and not just what they say in the present and even then they refer to the work of a group instead of themselves as individuals.
I once was working with the staff and student body of an all-male school in California. It was a very wealthy school in a very poor neighborhood. The cross-country coach told me they had a fleet of white limousines donated to the school. He asked, “Can you imagine what other schools think when our boys show up in these limos instead of rusty old busses?”
“Yes,” I said, “they probably say, ‘look at those rich, snobby Catholic children flaunting their wealth.’”
He responded, “I didn’t think of that…”
I suggested they open up the school once or twice every week and offer a student-run afterschool program for junior high age children in the neighborhood. It is my belief that every Catholic school in North America should be offering such a program in their neighborhoods. Gangs target kids at that age (10-12 years old) and the most dangerous time to be a child in North America is between those hours (3-5pm).
Instead of just focusing on sports and pride, these schools could be focused on service and humility. Offering the belonging and direction that gangs usually prey upon on in their recruitment strategies of susceptible young adolescents.