When we were children in kindergarten and elementary school we spent a lot of time on the playground. We had organized games and less organized games, but we played a lot together. That was a good thing because many of us didn’t have siblings at home who were of an age to play with us as equals, so it was essential for us to learn to play with people our age and size, more or less. One of the organized games that frequently became disorganized was one called “King of the Hill.” I don’t remember a large mound, but the whole idea was to get to the “top” and proclaim that one of us was King of the Hill. It didn’t matter whether a boy or girl, and we usually didn’t play more than one round of it during recess, but there was a feeling in the one who had won the game that was a sense of self-confidence and pride. The next day someone else might win, but for that day, they were the king of the hill, even if the feeling was just inside them.
Today is the commemoration of St. Bartholomew, one of the disciples that we don’t hear a lot about. He certainly wasn’t prominent like Peter, or as persistent as James and John, the Sons of Thunder, who wanted to know who was going to be on his left and right side when they came into power, and who even had their mother ask Jesus for those positions for her sons. Now, really! To most people, it would be utterly embarrassing, but if it got the job done, then that was what it took.
I have a feeling that because Bartholomew is seldom heard of in the Gospels and not often mentioned outside the Gospels either, that he was probably a very humble man. He didn’t take the spotlight, and he didn’t push his way into situations that would bring him into prominence. Traditions have it that he traveled to India or Armenia to do mission work and was martyred by being flayed alive and then beheaded. Some scholars consider him to be the apostle Nathaniel, a friend of Philip. There isn’t much more known as to his history, but because he was one of Jesus chosen, he is commemorated and the Eucharistic gospel for this day is the reading about being humble.
Today, humility doesn’t seem to have a lot of push to it. It’s all about status, social position, financial status, and a corner office with glass windows on the top floor of the corporate building. What it’s about a waiting room full of client or patients who have come especially to see this particular person who has such a reputation for solving problems and taking care of business. It can be hard to find anyone who thinks that humility is a good thing. Okay, maybe we can count Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and John Paul II. We have people like Jimmy Carter, Dorothy Day, Fr. Mychal Judge, and many others who did a lot in their quiet way to make the world a better place.
Humility is about going around doing good and not trying to call attention to oneself; no pictures in the paper, no soundbite on a TV newscast about some heroic act or something similar. Humility is seeing something that needs to be done and doing something about it without calling a lot of attention. That’s the kind of humility Jesus practiced and taught his disciples and the crowds to follow.
It seems these days we’ve got lots of people screaming about their being the king, or, in some cases, queen of the hill. We have people among us who not only try to make that claim to be the chosen or even possibly the King of a significant religious group.
Those today who claim to be the king of the hill seldom show any humility at all. Instead, they proclaim their powerfulness and prestige, much of which seems to be somewhat exaggerated if not significantly so. But what can a body do? Anybody can claim to be the king of the mountain. Not everybody wants to or can claim to be the humble one at the bottom.
Jesus was humble man, although he was known for his very occasional acts of temper and his occasional displeasure with his disciples when they were slow in catching on to something that he had tried so hard to get across to them. He was kind to people, even people he didn’t know, or people with whom it would not be reasonable for him to interact, like the woman who washed his feet with her hair. Was it really Mary Magdalene? Was it Mary of Bethany? Who knows, but what we do know is that it was an act of humility and an act of love, and Jesus recognized it as such.
Humility is a quiet virtue. It is difficult and not always seen as a popular position, but it is what Jesus consistently taught as the path that we need to follow.
This week I think I need to look at humility in my own life. The Lord knows I never really have attempted to be king of the hill (at least since elementary school). I still need to look at those experiences where I have fallen short of the humility goal and see what I need to do to make it a more integral part of my life and to contribute more to those around me rather than looking for my own self-glorification. Anybody care to join me?
Image: Two panda cubs at play, Author Kevin Mcgill from Den Bosch, Netherlands. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is at the beck and call of Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, who keep her busy and frequently highly amused.