Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
(Psalm 51:1-4, NKJV)
It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
(Luke 17: 11-19, The Message)
First of all, I stand here today most in need of the words I will share with you. I do not put myself above anyone within the hearing of my voice in the area of humility. Pride is a chronic disease afflicting and affecting each of us; we must face it daily and deal with it harshly or it will destroy us.
We see from our readings this morning two ways we can deal with pride: confessing our sins, and expressing gratitude for what Jesus does for us. You may say, “Sure, I can see how saying ‘I’m sorry’ expresses humility, but ‘thank you’? How does that keep pride at bay?”
First of all, saying mea culpa is not the same as saying I’m sorry. Sorrow comes with knowing that our words or actions hurt another. If hurting another does not hurt us, does not cause us to then confess our sin, then we can be sure pride has taken root. Please note my use of the unpopular and difficult-to-say word “sin.” Not mistake—sin. Mea culpa means “my mistake.” Taking the wrong exit from the freeway or giving your friend a Coke when she wanted Pepsi or forgetting to set the DVR to record a movie are all mistakes. Jesus did not die for our mistakes. Sin is deliberately putting myself above others. Sin is saying my way is more important than your way. Sin is saying to God, “Not thy will, but mine be done.” We confess sins, not mistakes. We ask forgiveness for sins. Unless and until we realize we are the chief of sinners we cannot experience forgiveness. And if we have not experienced forgiveness we cannot forgive.
Like David, we must realize that we have sinned against God. Sin brings about death. In a few minutes, we will all participate in that death—the death of God’s own Son. We will eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus who died a very real death for our very real sins. But we also sin against one another. Confessing those sins and asking forgiveness is a necessary part of the Christian’s life. Without this, pride takes hold and we begin to see ourselves as above others, as superior to those we hurt with our words and deeds. If we see ourselves as better than they, then we certainly don’t need to ask their forgiveness. If we wound others and then don’t say “I’m sorry,” we do not love. And Jesus gave us one command to follow: Love one another.
Back to my question: How does saying “Thank you” show humility? When we say “I’m sorry,” we are saying that we have done something to hurt another. We are in that person’s debt awaiting forgiveness. When we say “Thank you” we are also admitting a debt. We are saying, “You have done something for me I needed or wanted.” And it is so hard for us to put ourselves in the debt of another, is it not? We withhold gratitude so we don’t have to admit that another did something for us. I could have done it myself is our thought. We are such wretched creatures, thinking we can be our own gods and not need the hand offered by another.
The ten lepers in our gospel reading this morning all received healing for their disease. Yet only one was humble enough to return to Jesus to say Thank You. In doing so, he showed that he recognized it was Jesus who had healed him, not his work of going to show himself to the priest. Jesus called this recognition “faith,” and said this is what had not only brought about his healing, but also his salvation.
Just how important is the cultivation of a humble heart? Listen to the words of Andrew Murray:
And so the life of the saved ones, of the saints, must needs bear this stamp of deliverance from sin, and full restoration to their original state; their whole relation to God and man marked by an all-pervading humility. Without this there can be no true abiding in God’s presence, or experience of His favor and the power of His Spirit; without this no abiding faith, or love or joy or strength. Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows him as God to do all.
Can we truly be humble before God and not humble with our brothers and sisters? Can we have a heart of gratitude before God but not be thankful to one another? Let it not be so.
We are told by St. Paul not to partake of the body and blood of our Lord in an unworthy manner. I believe that unworthiness is exhibited when pride rules rather than humility. When we are unwilling to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” to those we rub elbows with all day long. So examine your hearts today, brothers and sisters. Do you need to ask forgiveness of someone? Do so before you approach the table. Do you need to thank someone for even some trivial thing that was said or done to you? Do so now.
Come to the table of the Lord in humility, knowing that you are a leper in need of healing. Leave the table with humility, showing and singing and shouting your gratitude to the One who heals and saves. This is good and acceptable in the eyes of our Lord.
Let us pray.