Faith and humility

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied,
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Luke 17:5-10)

For me, this passage speaks of the connection between faith and humility. The human condition is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, compared with God our Creator, each one of us is nothing. We are like tiny little grains of sand on the beach, or like the dust from which Adam was created. Jesus gives the helpful image of a servant who goes in and does what he is told. In our time when we don’t have household servants, perhaps an updated metaphor would be going to work and doing our job. We can think of the countless times that firefighters, EMTs, doctors or nurses are called heroes but when asked about their heroic status, deny it and say in all honesty, “I was just doing my job.” Jesus says that a similar kind of humility is called for in following the Lord. Following the commandments, or for us today, following wherever God leads us should never lead to self-aggrandizement about one’s own piety or moral virtue. Doing what Jesus asks us to do is much more about relationship, I think: desiring to be closer to the One who loves us, so that following what God asks is easy to do, or at least becomes easier over time.

If humility comes out of knowing our “littleness” before a loving God, then how is this connected to the idea that one can have such power in faith as to move a mountain? I think that it must mean that we trust wholeheartedly in God to do what needs to be done–some of it through ourselves, and some of it not through us, and all of it despite our human frailties and weaknesses. God can use our lives wherever we are placed–whether as mothers and fathers, working in business, schools, or hospitals–to do great good. When we can live in a space of knowing God’s greatness, especially God’s greatness of love, and know our own littleness, then we are freed up to contribute to that greater kingdom. Our humility can lead to deeper faith and trust in God, and a deepening trust in God to do what needs to be done enhances our own humility.