May 9, 2018 — Bold Humility?

Recognizing that American culture is increasingly splintered and divided, The Barna Group conducted some research that concluded that most Americans think it would be difficult to have a natural and normal conversation with people in minority groups that are different from them. “Minority groups” included Atheists, Christians and Muslims. According to the results, the largest group that has this difficulty is American Christians. In fact, not only do American Christians have the hardest time having normal, natural conversations with minority groups, 28% of Christians say they have a hard time having a normal conversation with other Christians!

Often what is felt to be required to fix this is to exercise a little more humility and, in so doing, give up all claims to exclusive truth. One might advocate that if we can affirm that no one can really claim to know what is true (i.e., “You have your truth. I have my truth.”), then nobody is in a position to judge another person. And this, it is argued, will lead to tolerance and acceptance because nobody can call anybody else wrong. In this school of thought, what we need is the practice of charity without the divisiveness of absolute belief.

If we look to the life and teaching of Jesus, what we discover, however, is that, at least with deference to our worldly sense of cultural proprietary, Jesus did not get that memo. He spoke with boldness, but did so with profound humility. Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus did not present His teachings as optional suggestions for a better life. He boldly claimed that what He said was not just wise but true. He claimed that His truth mattered more than anything else in the world.

So where is the humility? Jesus, who made claims that were breathtakingly bold, also pursued relational connections that were scandalously and breathtakingly humble. He deliberately touched an untouchable leper. He allowed a woman who was known to be caught up in a life of prostitution to bathe his feet. He commended a hated Roman centurion. He ate with despised tax collectors.

Luke’s Gospel includes the account of Jesus healing ten lepers that he encountered in a village as he passed between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem one day [Luke 17:11-19]. We find a small but important detail in verse 14: “When he [Jesus] saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests [emphasis mine].’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Why “priests” (plural)? Why not singular? In the mix of lepers of Jewish and Samaritan faiths, a Samaritan leper would ordinarily go to a Samaritan priest and a Jewish leper would present himself to a Jewish priest. Indeed, the Samaritan leper was on his way to see a Samaritan priest (on Jesus’ specific instructions) as he was healed. Clearly, Jesus is not saying, “I will only heal you if you convert to my religion.” Instead, Jesus entered into a healing relationship with a non-Jewish leper and sent him to his own Samaritan priest to be pronounced clean. Curiously, the only man of the ten to return to Jesus, of his own volition, with gratitude and reverence, was the Samaritan [verses 15-19].

In the same way, the longest conversation recorded in the Bible is between Jesus and a pagan Samaritan woman, five times married and now living out of wedlock with another man [John 4:1-41]. No other Jewish rabbi would likely have ever have gone near her, such was the disdain that Jews held toward Samaritans in that day.

What we discover throughout the Gospels is that Jesus was relentlessly bold in His devotion to God and relentlessly humble in his relationships with other people. Is it possible that as followers of Jesus we are modest in our devotion to God and narrow-minded in our relationships with other people? John Ortberg wrote, “If we look at [the Barna research] the followers of the most inclusive man in human history have become the most excluding people in American society.”

Jesus is unswervingly bold in His love of God — in word and action — but at the same time, He exercises an extreme humility in reaching out to all with the love of God. This is, of course, perfectly exemplified in the Cross. The apostle Paul captured this when he wrote: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Through the Cross we see the boldness of God’s love and His profound humility. In his book Café Theology: Exploring Love, the Universe and Everything, Michael Lloyd wrote: “A worldview that is based upon a crucified Messiah, therefore, cannot logically impose itself by force. … Such a God is Love, and knows the nature of love, that it cannot be forced. The Cross insists that we give others the same freedom that God has given to us all. … Truth is only safe in scarred hands.”

What Jesus is showing us is that, with the help of His Holy Spirit, we can boldly hold out the profound truth of His love, Lordship and mercy in our lives and, at the same time, we can walk with humility in reaching out to others with the same love and mercy. In Jesus, this is possible. In fact, in Him these qualities are inextricably linked.

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