A few weeks ago, I watched a great local production of the play Charlotte’s Web, put on by TBA. The play, based on the book, is about a little pig named Wilbur whose bacon is saved by Charlotte, a spider, who spins words in her web that describe Wilbur. Coming up with the words requires some help from other animals.
When Wilbur has been carted off to the fair, because he’s not just some pig, Charlotte and Templeton the rat go with him. Charlotte tasks Templeton with finding piece of paper with a good word on it that she can use as inspiration. Templeton comes back with a paper scrap that he asserts has a great word, “Humblé”. (“Hoom-blay”- like it’s French.)
Charlotte rolls her eyes, “The word is humble!” There is a big audience laugh at that moment. Humblé sounds like the categorical opposite of what we understand “humble” to mean. In particular, we do not have a great cultural love of humbleness (or its partner, humility). When humble is used to mean “subservient” or “insignificant”, no one wants to sign up for that. When people say, “In my humble opinion”- they usually mean, “I definitely know what I’m talking about and if you had any sense, you’d listen to me.” On the whole, people would rather be humblé, even though it’s not a real word, than be humble.
Thus, we come to today’s reading in Philippians and we read about Jesus being willing to humble himself. Was Jesus insignificant? Was he demeaned or low in status? Yes, he was friends with many who were on the lower rungs of society. He was from Nazareth, a bit of a backwater. However, Paul is referring to Jesus’ humbleness, his humility, in that he did not exploit the power that was within him (equality with God) while he was walking among us. He healed, he multiplied food, he raised people from the dead- but he didn’t smite, he didn’t heal for status gain, he taught so that minds and hearts would yield to embrace of mercy.
Jesus had the skills and the opportunity to be humblé, whatever that would mean, but he did not seize them. He, instead, was humbled- modest and unpretentious- to be God- enfleshed- in the flesh, walking among us. And what was in his mind? Love for creation, a desire for reconciliation, hope for God’s people, knowledge of God’s faithfulness- this is the same mindset that Paul calls for the Philippians to have in themselves. It is the mindset that we are called to have as well.
Too often, we as a church (and as people) are more about being humblé than humble. More time spent worrying about the building, about finances, about who does what and gets credit for it… all of this is humblé. We no longer live in a culture where we can be certain that people know who Jesus is, where church has a priority in people’s lives, where a relationship with God and God’s people is more common than not. Since this is the case, since the good news of Jesus needs to be spread far and wide, there is not the time or the room for humblé.
Paul writes to the Philippians, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” When he says, “If then there is…”, it is not actually an argument to say, “If these things exist…” It sounds that way in English, but Paul’s argument is actually more along the lines of “Since we have encouragement, consolation, love, compassion, and sympathy in and out of our relationship with God… let us have the same mind together.”
Having the same mind does not mean that the Philippians, or any other Christians will agree on everything. Having the same mind means a kind of lifting up and privileging the care of one another. It means having a deep consideration for the feelings and experiences of one another. It means setting aside all that is humblé and being willing to be humbled by caring for one another.
If we do this for each other, within the church, it will easily become our habit. Habits carry over beyond specific spaces. Our church habits can become our home habits and then our out-in-public habits. In consistently praying for and seeking to have the same mind with Christ Jesus, and then having that mindset together as a family in Christ, all traces of humblé will fad away- self-importance, frustration, superiority, disdain. Humbleness becomes the perfume of our lives, the song of our hearts, the tint through which our eyes see the world.
Humbleness is not about being a doormat or groveling or do anything and everything for anyone and everyone. It is about working out, coming to a deeper and broader understanding, of our salvation- of what God has done and called us to in Jesus Christ. To know what and how we have been forgiven, to consider that we are daily gifted with help for faith and service, to trust that we are never alone… if that doesn’t cause you to tremble, tremble, tremble, what will?
We are humbled by stepping out into the world on the faith that the One who knows us best, loves us most. That’s humbling. When we are at work with one another, when service busies our hands and prayer consumes our lips, as we work toward having the mind of Christ individually and together… as humbleness takes deeper root- it’s not that there’s no room to be humblé. It is that it is no longer necessary.