I think you’ll find that those who are hardest on themselves and on everyone else are lacking in humility. Humility is nothing more than self-knowledge. That’s what today’s gospel is all about. It picks up from where we left off last Sunday. Then, Jesus warned his disciples about seeing themselves as victims and going to war to redress the wrongs done to them—real or imagined. Jesus counselled his disciples to stop fighting…everybody and everything. We’re not victims. We’re not weak and helpless. Nobody can truly harm us without our permission. You see, nothing anyone can do to us or take away from us can affect our life in the Spirit, which is the only life that has eternal value. Everything else is transitory and has only temporary value.
Today’s gospel is a plea for humility. It’s a call to deepen our change of mind and heart—our metanoia—that we began last week. We’ve been born into a world of impermanence. We’ve been nurtured and trained to give importance to things which, over time, prove to be insubstantial. Almost nothing we value has any real permanence. We strive to obtain what attracts us, and we sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to possess them. Yet, when they’re finally ours, we’re, once again, dissatisfied. We’ve projected out own longings onto these things but when we’ve acquired them, our longings persist. Our problem lies not with the things we desire, but with ourselves. We don’t recognize that we’re the source of the values we see in our world. Things have no value in themselves. It’s our own incompleteness that’s mirrored back to us in our desires.
We can watch this happen in real time. Our dissatisfaction plays out in criticism. We’re dissatisfied with our world, so we find fault in it. When we look for what’s wrong with it, we can always find something. When we find it, we react with frustration and anger because we realize that we’re ultimately powerless to fix it and make it be what we want it to be. So, we look for causes—if not causes of the problems themselves, then we want to know why nobody is fixing them. We need to find somebody to blame, and, if we can’t find anybody, then we can always blame God.
What’s true of the problems we find in the world is even more so for the people who inhabit it. We’re blind to the fact that we’ve assigned each one of them a role to play in our lives to fulfill our needs. But people are messy and rebellious. They go off-script. They miss their cues. They won’t come onstage when they’re supposed to, and they refuse to exit when the scene is done. If only they’d listen to us, if only they’d take our direction, things would go so much easier for the both of us.
Oh, blind leaders of the blind! It’s not that we’re blind to what’s going on around us. We see what’s happening all too clearly. We can see the stupidity, the injustice, and the malice everywhere we look. What we can’t see is our own self-deception. We lack self-awareness. We’re deceived about our own condition. We don’t want to look too deeply at our faults and failings. They scare us. We’re afraid that if we examine them too closely, we’ll discover that we really are as unlovable—as broken—as we fear. We’re scared that others might see that we’re frauds—just pretending to be capable adults. And, what’s worse, we’re terrified that, if we were to face the truth about ourselves, we’d have to change. It’s so much easier to demand that others change.
Lent starts this week. Don’t worry about fasting and abstaining from meat. Don’t worry about what you’re going to give up. Concern yourself instead with your own metanoia—your own change of mind and heart. Take this opportunity over the next six weeks to take a good look under the hood. Yes, look at what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do. Let your guilt guide you. But, more importantly, look at your resentments, your angers, your frustrations, your conflicts. Those are the areas where your dissatisfaction shows. In each case, ask yourself, “What’s my part in this?” And when you find it—and you will—take note of it. Before long, you’ll begin to see patterns of selfish attitudes and behaviors. These are your character defects. They’re what make you and your world seem unacceptable. They’re your blind spots. They’re the beam in your eye that keeps you blind to your world and your place in it.
You can’t fix yourself. You can’t simply rid yourself of character defects. The good news is that you don’t have to. You’re not broken. And the grace of God will not only help you see your character defects, that same grace will help you heal if only you ask God for it. True humility is seeing yourself as God sees you and acting accordingly. True humility allows us to recognize our self-deceptions. We deceive ourselves when we imagine faults and failings in others because we’re not really seeing them at all. We’re actually seeing our own character defects reflected back to us from them. There’s a wise saying that goes, “If you spot it, you’ve got it.” We project our own character defects onto others. Once our character defects are acknowledged and submitted to the healing grace of God, they’ll no longer matter to you in anybody else. Acceptance of others begins with self-acceptance. Self-acceptance begins with self-knowledge. That means coming to terms with who you really are, what you really want, what’s really important to you, and what places remain unhealed within you that prevent you from becoming all that you could be.
Don’t be afraid to look within. Don’t be afraid of what you’ll find. You’re not going alone into uncharted territory. Didn’t Jesus himself promise, “Behold I am with you always, even to the consummation of your world?” [Matthew 28:20]