All sins originate in our tendency for arrogance. Beginning with our expulsion from the Garden of Eden we have continuously traveled down the path of allowing arrogance to cloud our judgment and open the door to our propensity for sin. It is the belief, or rather an assumption, in our individual greatness that causes us to plunder our way towards damnation.
Somehow during this exercise in varying degrees of corruption and hypocrisy we feel that we are above or beyond the rule of God and the laws of life. We believe that our worldly status and selfish acquisition of property and power by any means will secure our souls, but how wrong we are…
Arrogance perpetuates the worst of our human condition. In our cosmic lowliness we think ourselves to be greater than we truly are. For example, in the Book of Job we read the story of a blessed and powerful man brought to his knees by his arrogance. God’s lesson is that the belief that our presumed greatness grants us an entitlement is fundamentally flawed.
The Bible is full of examples of arrogance causing people, even the greatest of people, to sin in the worst possible ways. It becomes the primary cause of their woes. One famous example is when King David sent Uriah the Hittite to his death so that the king could take his wife Bathsheba.
Arrogance pushed David from an initial moment of desire into a sinister abuse of power that was later condemned by Nathan the Prophet, and severely punished by God. It would have become his complete undoing if it were not for his honest repentance and contrite humility before God. David was eventually forgiven and sinned no more.
Psalm 51:17 sings of David’s humble repentance for the evil he did to Uriah when it says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Our spiritual ancestors continuously warned us about the dark power of arrogance and lovingly urged us to go in the opposite direction.
In the First Book of Samuel (2:3) Hannah advises: “Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogance come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”
Psalm 12:3-4 further warns us that: “The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things; Who have said With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?”
Speaking to the faithful Isaiah 2:17 decrees that: “And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Further on, Isaiah 13:11 confirms that: “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
In Jeremiah 6:15 the lamentation reads: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush; therefore they shall fall among them that fall; at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.”
The struggle with arrogance and vain pursuit of greatness even plagued Jesus’ disciples. Luke 9:46-48 explains: “Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him. And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me receiveth He that sent me; for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”
Saint Paul advises in Galatians 5:26: “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another”. He goes on to explain in Galatians 6:3-8 that: “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself…Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
If arrogance is the mother of sin then humility is the mother of goodness. We are not great unless we be servants to our fellow human beings and adhere to the example of Jesus Christ.
The Epistle of James clearly outlines the value of humility in 1:8-9 and 4:6. The former reads: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.” The latter reads: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”
In 1 Peter 5:5-7 we are equally taught: “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; Casting all your care upon him; for He careth for you.”
Humility causes us to be mindful and compassionate. In turn, these effects of humble thinking and behavior are the signature virtues of a good Christian; mindfulness because it keeps us honest and compassion because it motivates us to serve others.
In his epistle to the Romans Saint Paul provides the most direct and concise presentation of how to be a good Christian and a good person. In Chapter 12 he follows the path from mindfulness to compassion. Verse 2 sets the ball rolling by saying: “And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Romans 12:10-21 further explains that we should: “Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another…Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another…Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Recently, Roman Catholic Pope Francis emphasized this need for humility and compassion in the Universal Church when he said: “Dear brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother Mary, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast…I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked…We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized!”
In a world plagued by war, extreme poverty, environmental degradation, crime and prejudice; we need to all look beyond ourselves (beyond our arrogance) so that we may each embrace humility, maintain mindfulness and practice compassion. This true Christian path is the only hope for humanity.
In his epistle to Titus, Saint Paul wrote in verses 11-14: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealots of good works.”
With this I pray that my humble words have inspired you and given you something good to think about. I also pray my dear reader that you may be blessed.
(Note: The above was previously published in 2017 as a sermon idea on the Chapel of St. Paul website)