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Taking the Lower Place

Self-Emptying

Taking the Lower Place
Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Jesus’ life offered an example of humility and self-emptying, but he chose an additional model for his disciples: that of little children. Despite what we see depicted in so much religious art, it was not meant as a “cute” or sentimental gesture! As Albert Nolan shares, it was a radical revaluing of human dignity, based on nothing that society could see or quantify! Taken seriously, it is still a profound message for us today.

Jesus was uncompromising in his belief that all human beings were equal in dignity and worth. He treated the blind, the lame and the [sick], the outcasts and beggars with as much respect as that given to those of high rank and status. He refused to consider women and children unimportant or inferior. This turned a carefully ordered society of status and honor upside down—even more so when he advocated moving down the social ladder instead of striving to reach the top. [1]

When his disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus put his arm around a little child (Mark 9:36–37). According to Jesus, the least or most insignificant persons in the society are the greatest (Luke 9:48). In the society and culture of the time, the child had no standing or status whatsoever. The child was a “nobody.” The implication is that Jesus and those who want to follow him are “nobodies,” right at the bottom of the social ladder. For Jesus, the child was a model of radical humility (Matthew 18:3–4) [or what I am calling “self-emptying” this week]. Those who wish to follow him will have to become as humble as little children. [2]

Richard again: It’s difficult to hear, but Albert Nolan is simply quoting Jesus from several contexts—usually when the Twelve are all in their heads arguing. We cannot become humble by mere intellect or willpower. Pretending to be humble only makes us more self-absorbed and self-referential. All we can really do is become more aware of our pride or vanity by noticing how we respond to even minor slights or humiliations. That will be more than enough to let us know how self-centered we are and how meaningless our taking offense truly is in this infinite universe.

References:
[1] Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Orbis Books: 2006), 52.

[2] Ibid., 119.

Image credit: Ajanta Caves (detail mural of the Buddha), Aurangabad, Maharashtra State, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we meditate consistently, a sense of our autonomy and private self-importance—what we think of as our “self”—falls away. Little by little, it becomes unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that we likely think of as our only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of our mind. —Richard Rohr
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