The Humblest are the Greatest

Matthew 18: 1-5,10,12-14
Deut 31: 1-8 / Deut 32

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:4)

If like a child we seek God’s embrace,
Empty our heart of the sin of pride;
And if we want it filled with His grace,
Let Christ’s humility there reside.

One time, the disciples approached Jesus and asked Him, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom He put in their midst, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, their angels in heaven continually look upon the face of my heavenly Father. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14)

Reflection

Our Lord Jesus could not have emphasized the importance of humility more than in the first lesson of the Beatitudes, His first sermon in His public ministry: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3). The “Poor in spirit” are those who choose to be small in God’s eyes even if they are great among their peers; they empty themselves of worldly things in order to be filled with God’s grace. Jesus was the Incarnation of humility, first by becoming man, and secondly, by His passion and death on the cross, the most humiliating form of torture known to man.

Among the great saints and Doctors of the Church, one who heard the call of God in the voice of a child was St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). As he wrote in his famous Confessions, “I was speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice, as of a boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’ ” The passage he read was St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and debauchery, not in rivalry and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:13-14). That child’s voice freed him from his life of debauchery, and soon he was converted. After his conversion, he sold all of his possessions and gave the money to charity, retaining only his house which became his monastery.

Here are some of St. Augustine’s thoughts on humility: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” … “There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.” … “To know Jesus is to know His humility, for He is the archetype and master of humility.” … “There would have been no salvation for us, after all, if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes.” … “Thus the Wisdom of God, setting out to cure men, applied Himself to cure them, being at once the Physician and the Medicine. Because man fell through pride, he applied humility as a cure.” How lucidly St. Augustine explained how God’s humility and generosity were the key to our salvation.

If God had not sought out and saved that one lost sheep (St. Augustine), think of how many thousands of Christians in North Africa would have gone astray through the influence of the Manichaeans, Jansenists and Donatists, who provoked schisms in the early Church at the time. “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14).

The humility of Jesus teaches us not to be judgmental in our attitude towards others who do not share our faith or righteousness. Instead of treating them with prejudice, we must instead strive to bring them to the fold of Christ. Why not invite one to your breakfast fellowship, bible study or prayer meeting?

We are humbled, Lord God, when we read how our Savior Jesus Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil.2:8). May we always follow His ways even on a smaller scale. Amen.

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