Humility

Two Sundays ago I preached on John 13.1-16, the passage in which Jesus tied a towel around himself, got down on his knees and washed the disciples’ feet. Those of you in the early service, may remember that my sermon notes had a reminder for me to share “The monk quote” and that I couldn’t remember what in the world I was talking about. Well here it is. It is from an article on humility titled “The Lowly Virtue” by Carol Zaleski in the May 16, 2006 edition of The Christian Century:

“Occasionally, though, it [humility] takes a startling form, as my husband I discovered many years ago. We had just begun a nine-month sojourn in a studio apartment in Paris, where I was working on my dissertation. Early one morning my husband answered a knock at the door, thinking it might be the plumber our landlady had promised to send to fix the heating system. As I emerged from the bathroom I saw something that stopped me in my tracks: Dom Jean Leclercq, the famous Benedictine medievalist, was crouching alongside my husband, peering at the pipes and trying to be helpful. He had received a letter of inquiry from me and decided to answer it in person. Here was a world-class scholar, a legend in his own lifetime, the most famous living monk next to Thomas Merton–and my husband took him for a plumber! The embarrassment faded, however, as soon as it became clear that Jean Leclercq was perfectly comfortable being taken for a plumber, perfectly willing to fix our pipes if he could, perfectly willing to sit in our homely surroundings, share a baguette and discuss 12th-century thought. This is not the way distinguished medievalist, generally speaking, comport themselves with their inferiors. But it is the most characteristic of monastic traits.”

Clearly, Zaleski comes out of an academic background that considers medieval scholars above plumbers in status. Having recently required the services of a plumber, I’m not sure I agree with that view. But the point she is making about humility being “the most characteristic of monastic traits” is an important one. Humility is a key component of being Christ like. Christ got down on his knees and performed the lowly service of washing the feet of his disciples. In so doing he showed that no service was beneath him. If we want to be like and with him we will consider no service beneath us, for “servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”