"Humility is truth" said my spiritual director, as we talked about humility.
One of my favorite stories of Jesus is the washing of the disciple's feet. We find it on John 13. We all know the story, and so I won't transcribe it here. I will, however, quote from it throughout this post.
"During Supper" (John 13:2a ESV). This supper is important because it was just before the Feast of the Passover. There is even some debate among theologians who suggest that this is the Passover meal.
Jesus and the Disciples were eating with their feet dirty. It was the custom of the day to wash the host's feet before the meal, because as they sat down on pillows around a round table, the feet would be too close to the meal.
Imagine! Dirty feet from walking on sandals all day close to a meal. Why didn't anyone think of washing their feet before eating?
Well this job was reserved to the lowest slaves in the household. We know from Luke 22:23 that the disciples were discussing who was the greatest among them during this time.
They knew that washing of the feet was essential in their culture before having a meal, but no one volunteered for the task because that would put them in the lowest position, culturally speaking.
So instead they chose to eat with their feet dirty!
Jesus knew that His hour had come, and wanted to take advantage of these precious last hours to teach something to His disciples. He chose Humility.
When Jesus decided to interrupt dinner to wash His disciple's feet, He did more than simply preach a sermon on humility. He did more than taking a commitment of Humility. He did more than a ceremony that is repeated annually.
What is Humility? For the longest time I thought that Humility was simply beating yourself down, accepting the "fact" that you are inferior to others. A low self esteem seemed like the sour medicine that I must take to force myself into humility.
I don't believe that anymore.
"You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am" (John 13:13 ESV).
Jesus makes no apologies in this story of who He is. He didn't say nah guys, you have it all wrong, you think I'm all great and stuff, but I actually kinda suck. That would be ridiculous, in light of what He is.
And so it is ridiculous to beat ourselves down, in light of what we are in Christ, and mask this self violence with the pretty face of Humility.
Jesus is humble not in despite of what He is, but because of who He is.
Because He knows that "the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God" (John 13:3 ESV), He is able to assume the position of a slave in service.
His identity was not in how this world sees greatness in their different cultures, but it was based on God's love.
And God's love is self giving. How are we to love without serving?
If Jesus wasn't of God, He would be forced to support His identity on other things other than God. Maybe He would have chosen His culture, His social status, or the intellectual knowledge that He had.
But cultures, with their complex stratifications and social divisions, can force upon us rules of engagements that limit who we serve and how we serve. Just like the disciples were forced to not wash each other's feet because, in their culture, that would put them in a lower position than the rest.
Jesus, because He is not of this world, is replacing all of those rules with one: love one another. It's not who we love what's important, but simply to love.
And Love is self giving. And Humility is just an expression of that love, where you forget who you are in this world and simply give yourself in loving it.