C Cycle – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 16

I believe it is important to us to understand and acknowledge exactly what we were intended to be as God created us. If we understand and embrace our nature as sons and daughters of the living God, we can respond to every scripture passage that challenges us.

Consider this passage from the prophet Micah, “…Oh man what is good and what the Lord requires of you; only to do right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). What does it mean to do right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with God?   If we would just take the time to think about that passage we will acknowledge that our human nature fights against those very things – especially humility.

Early in life we learn to be competitive and to break the rules in order to win. If you think I am wrong just think back to the times you watched children at play. King of the hill is a childhood game about who will be the strongest. Dodge ball isn’t fun unless you survive until you are the last one standing. Even in conversation kids brag about whose dad is the strongest or the best fisherman. Girls playing jump rope keep elevating the speed of the ropes, use multiple ropes and intricate in and out moves to outdo each other. Even a beauty contest is not friendly; who wants to be Miss Congeniality.

You get the picture our human nature is competitive and yet God tells us to with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phl. 2:3).  How do we do that when our nature drives us in the opposite direction?

We compete with our siblings, with our co-workers, with our friends, even within the church we compete.  I overheard heard these conversations recently; “My parish is the best parish in the diocese.  No you could not possibly have a parish like mine.”   Our parish youth ministry is much better than that one down the street.  Our choir is the best in the diocese; in fact the Bishop has requested us to sing at an event he will be hosting.  Yet in spite of making us with this competitive nature God says “One thing I desire of you is to do right, love goodness and to walk humbly with God.”

How do we do that when we even compete for the best lawns, the best apple pie, the best children and best school band?  Let us not even talk about our football teams or any other sport.  Weren’t we proud that the American Olympians won 121 metals; almost double the number of the nearest competitor?  Here is another question for us, can we be boastful and competitive and still do right, love goodness and walk humbly with God.

To answer that question we can look at the stories in the scriptures and conclude yes we can; with God all things are possible even a competitive heart can become a humble heart.

Consider Paul’s transformation. At one point he speaks proudly of his heritage and life’s accomplishments.  He boasts about being a Jew, educated in Jerusalem under the great Pharisee Gamaliel, becoming a Pharisee himself an expert on the law, zealous in persecuting the so called followers of Christ (Acts. 22:3ff).  All that changed for after his encounter with Christ he realizes how foolish all those things were.  In fact he plainly  says,“Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God” (Rom. 15:8).

If you listen to Paul in his letter to the Romans he turns the tables on seeking those righteousness through human effort when he says this to the proud Jews “…for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13) …for they show the work of the Law written in their heart” (Rom. 2:15).

Our ability to walk humbly with God comes from a heart faith not a head faith. Paul after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus moved his faith being in all his own preparation and study into a faith moved by a heart touched by the hand of God.

 Paul ends this dialogue of chastising the smugness of holiness with these words, “No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Rom. 2:29).

Listen to those words again – What pleases God is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit.  That is Paul speaking not Deacon Dave.  Paul gives us the formula to being able to walk humbly with God, to do right and love goodness.

Paul repented of his own failing to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and the only way to God. That is the first step in humility.  The next step is to acknowledge that all we have done so far in our faith journey is no different than Paul’s journey.  His journey was one of study and learning and following the law. We have used those same things to grow in in holiness instead of allowing God to love us into holiness.

How do we make a change in what we do in order to grow in humility?  We need to admit we are in need of a savior and in need of a change of heart.  It begins with us understanding that everything we have to boast about is because God made us adequate in the first place (2 Cor. 3:5).

Once we make this shift in our thinking we begin to not only stop competing with others but we stop striving to gain goodness and righteousness by our own effort. That my brothers and sisters is how we begin to walk as humble men and women of God.

 

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