The word ‘humility’ comes from the root ‘humus’ which means dirt or soil. To be humble is to be aware of the dust from which we have been created. We are connected to the soil from which we were created. We are created to be grounded and sober about our human condition.
But dirt also reminds us that we are planted in the soil of God’s heart. Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Christian mystic, was fond of referring to God as the ‘Ground of our being’. God is the ground in which we are planted. So, our humility is both the very humanity that causes our frailties, but also the humanity that is planted in the Ground of all our being. Yes, we are fragile humans with selfish ambition. But we are also created in the image of God and we are empowered for so much more.
True humility understands both aspects and holds them together without the exclusion of the other. People who are humble see themselves honestly. They are aware of their weakness and selfish ambition. But they are also aware of their giftedness and strength.
In Philippians 2:6-7, Paul uses the word ‘kenosis’ which literally means ’emptying’. “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied [kenosis] himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Several other translations say it this way:
“He gave up everything and became a slave…” (Contemporary English Version)
“He gave up his place with God and made himself nothing.” (New Century Version)
“He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave…” (The Message)
“He made himself nothing…” (New Living Translation)
This week is Holy Week. It is both a sacred and solemn week. Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing the cross awaited him at the end of the week. Jesus empties himself as he moves toward the cross. He had to set aside his own rights and privileges. He had to recognize the dust and the ash of his humanity. He had to let go. We started Lent six weeks ago with Ash Wednesday. We received the mark of ashes on our foreheads and we were reminded, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” We were reminded of our mortality and dependence on God.
I pray that this Holy Week will call us to take our cues from the life of Jesus. Just as Jesus gave himself for others, we must do the same. We must wrestle with setting aside our own desires and our own quest for worldly success in order to move downward into the grist of real life with real people.
This move downward- emptying ourselves- is the antidote to division and disunity according to Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in everyone being on the same side of the political debate. Paul did not believe that everyone had to be in the same place on social issues. Paul is not interested in having a church vote on an issues facing a church or denomination with the groups with the most votes winning.
The source of unity, Paul says, is God. And the one who has lived out a life of union and harmony before is God’s Son, Jesus.