Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, “What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?”
The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend well acquainted with Rowland’s disposition expressed surprise at the professor’s uncharacteristic answer. Rowland answered, “Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath.” I suppose, under oath, that even a truly humble person must speak the truth.
Chad of Lichfield was an abbot of a monastery who was elevated to the position of Bishop. However, years later, a new Archbishop of Canterbury questioned the legitimacy of the ordination when he discovered that the rite used for the ordination was not according to the Roman custom. Therefore, Chad offered to resign, saying, “Indeed, I never believed myself worthy of it.” Impressed with Chad’s humility, Canterbury reconsecrated him. It is with this same humility that Chad went about the business of caring for his diocese.
Andrew Murray, a South African pastor wrote, “The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten because … he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor. Therefore, in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ he has put on the heart of compassion, kindness, meekness, long-suffering, and humility.”
In our Gospel reading Jesus teaches about humility, saying that when entering a room, we should take the lowest seat, not thinking too highly of ourselves, so that when the owner of the house comes, he will invite us to take a seat of greater honor. This is a true sign of humility, but it must also be done with right intent, for there is also false humility. That person takes the lowest seat, not out of true humility, but knowing full well that the owner of the house will make a big deal over them before others. Their actions were according to the teachings of Jesus, but their intent was consumed with pride.
Using Murray’s description of humility, Chad of Lichfield was one who “received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor.” Even as a Bishop, Chad took the lowest seat, recognizing his unworthiness outside of Christ. Perhaps a lesson we can all learn from.
In book three, chapter eight of The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes, “I will speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. … It is there You show me to myself — what I am, what I have been, and what I am coming to; for I am nothing and I did not know it. Left to myself, I am nothing but total weakness. But if You look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy. Great wonder it is that I, who of my own weight always sink to the depths, am so suddenly lifted up, and so graciously embraced by You.”
Like Chad, when we recognize that our only good comes from God, then we can walk in true humility, and by doing so, we will be lifted up, embraced by Jesus, and brought to a seat of honor at the heavenly banquet.