Do You Desire to be Great? The Path is Humility!Fr. Barnabas Powell
The words of Jesus often strike us as paradoxical: To be free, you must be a slave, to live you have to die, to be great, you must be humble! Hundreds of books have been written trying to understand the paradox of Jesus and His influence on humanity. The fact is His life shouldn’t have mattered much at all when you think of the millions of lives lived by just religious philosophers and leaders in human history.
But, still, the life of Jesus Christ has radically changed human history. The story of humanity simply can’t be told without His story is central to the narrative. Why? Why does the life of an obscure, wandering itinerant Jewish rabbi, in an out-of-the-way part of the ancient Roman Empire, Who was executed by the State with the collusion of the religious leaders of His own people, and who was reported to do some fantastical and unbelievable “miracles” change the course of human history? The paradox of the life of Jesus and His forever-changing human history won’t make any sense to those who see “power” as a mere force to control. In fact, there are those who see Christianity as a shameful religion, easy to mock, precisely because we declare our God to have made Himself weak so that He could save us. They see “weakness” in Christianity, where they should see the power of humility to overcome the world! That’s real power.
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 18:1-11:
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the Gehenna of fire.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man came to save the lost.”
The Life of Jesus Christ transforms human history precisely because of His consistency of message and the reality of His ministry. Jesus Christ lived out His preaching. He came to us in humility. God, chose to “empty” Himself of His prerogatives so that He could rescue us from our greatest enemy: mortality.
This “emptying Himself” becomes a central revelation in Christianity that has the theological word “kenosis” attached to it. And it flows from St. Paul’s explanation in Phillippians where Paul declared “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phillippians 2:5-8) This “made Himself of no reputation” can also be translated as “made Himself nothing” or “made Himself weak.” It all points to Jesus, being God in the flesh, set aside all His prerogatives and power to exercise His greatest power – The power to MAKE HIMSELF a slave. He wasn’t made a slave to physical weakness or beatings or crucifixion or even mortality. He made himself a slave to those things so that He could destroy these enemies from the inside for our sake! This is such an incredible exercise of power that it absolutely dumbfounded every evil in the universe. It still does.
And how does He do this? Humility. He, Who is All-Powerful, makes Himself powerless. He makes Himself “nothing” and becomes obedient to the humiliating death of the cross SO THAT His humility can show us the way to true greatness ourselves. It won’t be through our supposed “strengths” or “power” or “intelligence” or “politics” or any other deluded self-sufficiency. Greatness will only be possible through childlike humility and wonder.
And the Lord warns us of the natural consequences of trying to get to greatness without humility. He clearly warns us that, while temptations are inevitable because we are created with freedom, “woe” to those who foolishly, and blindly, cooperate with the temptations. Jesus goes on to tell you and me that our priorities have to set humility and freedom from the slavery of sin even above our own bodies. If your eye sins, get rid of it and avoid the “fire” of the trash heap that your life will degenerate into if you never aspire to the freedom of humble greatness.
As we enter into the time of the Forefeats of the Holy Cross, the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the Dormition Fast, we will be confronted once again with the wisdom of the Church that it is through humility we attain the true power of the nFaith to overcome the temptations of our day. By remembering that even our Lord left us the perfect example that true authority, true power, and true victory always comes through the door of its opposite. We will be able to withstand temptations when we embrace the Cross that kills everything in our life that is unlike Jesus. We will finally stop believing the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves when we have the humility to see Jesus as He really is, the Transfigured One come to show us what we were created to be in the first place. And we will be able to have Him growing in our lives when we abandon our ego-driven pride to say, as our blessed Panagia, the Theotokos, said “Let it be done to me as you say. I am the Lord’s servant.” Our fasting, our attentiveness, and our faithfulness, all lead us to the undoing of the smallness of arrogant pride to the fullness of our truest selves in Jesus Christ!
Today, are you living your life, or is life living you? Do you desire to be free and participate in the greatness of your potential? Then it will be because you dare to embrace a childlike humility and not participate in a world or society that blindly thinks greatness comes from some notion of power. Living the disciplined Normal Orthodox Life is true freedom and true greatness!
P.S. With far-shining beams, the Cross of Christ goes about throughout all the earth, bestowing life and grace on all. Let us draw near it as to a saving beacon in the night of this world; for the Lord, Who was nailed to it, through it bestows forgiveness on all men.