Season 4 - Week 6
“To stand before God without any illusion”
On my allotment, there’s a wooden compost heap covered with old carpet. Every week we take down our vegetable peelings, used tea bags and egg shells and add them to the pile. It’s not a pleasant ritual, to be honest – it’s smelly, dirty and always make me feel a bit nauseous. But I do it because of what will happen to all that waste several months or so into the future.
When I pull back the carpet to add my latest potato peelings, underneath is a writhing mass of insects getting stuck into what I’ve thrown away – woodlice, millipedes, worms, slugs, mites, and centipedes. It’s a wriggling, vibrant, hot, chaotic, churning mass of bodies, muck and decay that assaults your senses. But turn it over every so often, leave it a year, then pull back the carpet and what you will find is crumbly, beautiful, compost with a wonderful earthy smell, and hardly an insect to be seen. They’ve processed all they can and have moved onto the next load of rotting food, leaving behind rich, life-giving compost full of humus.
The word humility has the same root as the word humus - the stable organic matter that won’t break down any further, that improves your soil and nurtures your plants. So to be humble is to have an internal stability in our understanding of who we are before God. It’s to stand before God without any illusions - knowing that we are created by God, that we are loved by God, and that we’re broken and in need of God.
Just before Jesus died, he deliberately held this last supper with his friends, a time when he tried to communicate to them all that they would need in the coming days when their world would be turned upside down. At the start of that meal, Jesus took on the role of the lowliest servant, doing the task that none of the rest of them were prepared to do for each other. John tells us: ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.’
Often, I find my sense of self is all over the place. I swing between trying to boost it by reminding myself of my achievements, and then beating myself up and grovelling before God because of the mistakes I’ve made. Jesus’ act of humility in serving his friends came from a measured understanding of who he was before God. He knew that he was powerful. He knew that he had come from God and was returning to God. He knew what was about to happen. But he didn’t use that knowledge to persuade, to coerce or to benefit himself; he used it to serve. His internal stability and understanding of who he was enabled him to serve his disciples in a way that opened their eyes to truth.
‘Now that I have washed your feet, said Jesus, ‘you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’
There are many things we can do for others that are the contemporary equivalent of foot washing, but we should imitate the source of Jesus’s humility, that rock-solid knowledge of who he was and whose he was. That’s true humility.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
One of the Ignatian practices of prayer is to take some time to stand before God and let Him look at you.
Find a quiet space, take a few moments to breathe deeply; calm yourself. Then, stand before God. Close your eyes and invite Him just to look at you. Be still and let Him gaze on you or be present with you in any way He wants to.
You might find it helpful to imagine he is there in the room. What does he do? Can you see his face? What's the expression? Does he speak to you? What does he say?
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.