“……in humility regard others as better
(from today’s second reading)
It is hard to be humble when you are entitled. If one learns that the Creator has chosen one group over all others and has also learned from the best science of that time that one half of the Chosen are meant to rule over the other half, then to be humble is even more difficult. In the Bible these are familiar ideas. The prayer of the Pharisee thanking God for his gifts was sincere, but misguided. The Creator is revealed through creation and the secrets of creation are gradually discovered through science. Our behaviour is guided by science which also discovers our own place in the world which today is quite different from what is was two thousand years ago. What did they know about a genome?
We also know that we live in community. Some rules apply within a community and some others apply among different communities. Jesus gave us guidance in dealing with those in other social circles; look honestly within and treat others the way you would like to be treated. He also gave a very powerful example: He knelt down and performed the task of a slave — a female slave — and washed the feet of the apostles on the first “Maundy” Thursday. St. Peter, bless his heart, objected strenuously. Don’t we all? Shouldn’t people know their place?
I love sports and watch them all the time. My favourite is curling, then baseball, then golf, football, hockey and basketball. Soccer and Australian Rules Football only in an emergency, that is, no other sports on TV. We change our time clocks when the Olympics are in the Far East.
I watch sports as a theologian. I can’t help it. I have learned that sports provide us with an example of how to live. Each sport simplifies rules into a coherent whole. Each has a purpose (to win) and a specific time and place within which the rules apply, a team spirit and a respect for the opposition (for without them there would be no play). All participants in professional sports are exceptionally talented yet they humble themselves by submitting to the rules of the game and to the discipline of learning and perfecting the skills of the game.
I do not think it was just coincidence that during this pandemic, basketball and then other major sports inspired us with the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Because it is in the attitudes of those within a certain circle towards those outside that circle that injustices occur. “Systemic” injustice is invisible to those within but clearly seen and felt by those outside. In sports, the injustice appears in who gets to try out and who is automatically excluded ahead of time. In life, it is in who is allowed into the halls of power and who doesn’t count. (See Mt 14:21).
In our reading today, I do not believe that St. Paul is talking to those who are already humble in their lives and work. He is talking to those in power who believe themselves above others because they are in authority over others. Another word for Humility is Respect. During this Pandemic we might do well to remember that wearing a mask is a sign of respect.