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August 22, 2016

The four most important virtues according to St. Bernard of Clairovaux: “Humility, humility, humility, and humility.”

Most of my friends know that I am an avid thrift store shopper. Even before my sister-in-law turned me into a thrift store junkie about seven years ago, I purchased gently used classic clothing through a friend. I would much rather wear a twenty or thirty year old classic Chanel suit, made with superior fabric and workmanship than a comparably priced new one from a department store. Our daughter wears a classic hooded rust-colored wool jersey dress that I bought when I was 23 years of age, and other clothes that I made or purchased more than twenty-five years ago. One of my friends wears treasured classic pieces of jewelry and a leather purse that were worn by her ancestors a hundred years ago in Europe.

Our interest in classics extends beyond clothing to cars, furniture, accessories, books, and you-name-it. We are drawn to classics because they stand the test of time. One of the reasons that I am drawn to the truths of Christianity is that they have stood the test of time.

The author of Hebrews tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).[1] More than a thousand years earlier, King David had written “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forever more.” (Psalm 131:3). Unlike classic clothing and other material things that will eventually disintegrate, Jesus will never change. Likewise, God’s truths have been the same since the beginning of time, and will never change. One of the definitions of a classic book is a book that with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading. Under almost any definition, God’s Word is the quintessential classic that has stood the test of time for thousands of years, and still delights and provides new treasures for those who spend time in its pages.

Among the classic truths in this week’s Scripture texts is the emphasis on humility. In a song of ascent, David sings “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.” The book of Proverbs is filled with warnings against pride, including this piece of advice: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Proverbs 25: 6). Jesus echoes that advice in this week’s gospel lesson: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14: 8-11).

Humility is a major theme throughout Scripture. In last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus warned that in heaven “Some are last that will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30). It is not our current title, position, or the amount of money in our bank account that determines worthiness before God. Titles and positions valued by the world are not valued by God. My Bible note explains, “Pride results from overvaluing ourselves and undervaluing others. It leads to restlessness because it makes us dissatisfied with what we have and concerned about what everyone else is doing. It keeps us always hungering for more attention and adoration. By contrast, humility puts others first and allows us to be content with God’s leading in our lives. Such contentment gives us security so that we no longer have to prove ourselves to others.” (Life Application Study Bible, NIV, Tyndale and Zondervan, p.1051).

In Chapter 8 of his classic little book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis calls pride “The Great Sin.” He wrote: “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind . . . As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943) McMillan Publishing Company, p. 109-111).

Let’s resolve to set our hearts and minds on classic truths, and to look at others through the prism of God’s eyes–that every person we encounter in our everyday life—at home, at work, in social situations, at church and elsewhere, is created in God’s image. Each person is imprinted with God’s stamp, and should be treated accordingly. It’s a classic truth.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan



[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 131, Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14: 1-14.


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