Monday, 23 September 2019

We’re not as great as we think we are

WHEN Thomas Hardy was so famous that any newspaper would gladly have paid enormous sums for his work, he would sometimes submit a poem, always with a stamped addressed envelope for the return of his manuscript should it be rejected. Even in his greatness, he was humble enough to think that his work might be turned down.

John Cairns was principal of the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall in Edinburgh. He would never enter a room first. He always said: “You first, I follow.”

Once he came on to a platform to great applause in welcome. He stood aside and let the person behind him go on first, never believing that the applause could be for himself.

Thomas Young was an eminent scientist. He was born in 1773 and by the age of 14 had learnt Greek and Latin and was acquainted with French, Italian, Hebrew and seven more languages. At 21, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was knowledgeable in physics, medicine, music — the list goes on.

Yet he published many of his first academic articles anonymously.

Three men with every reason to be proud but each one humble. Humility has always been one of the characteristics of the truly great.

In one of his parables, Jesus talked about not sitting in the place of honour at a marriage feast in case a more eminent person might have been invited.

The parable goes on to say that if you are the more important person, then you should take the lower place so that the host can call you up to a higher one.

When we go to our favourite restaurant and we perhaps have a choice of tables, what do we do? Of course we choose the one that best suits our needs, perhaps furthest from that draughty door, or maybe the one with the view over the river and hills.

In choosing what’s best for us, do we give consideration to other people, or what their needs might be? Or perhaps we just want somewhere that is just quiet, maybe where we can hear ourselves talk, or somewhere where we can just listen to our surroundings.

Where do we find that space to just listen? Where can we be at peace? We know that Jesus tried to get to quiet places, away from the crowds.

Before the Crucifixion he went to find a quiet spot in the Garden of Gethsemane, somewhere quiet where he could pray and prepare for what was to come. It is difficult to willingly live through that period with Jesus. If we say we are journeying with Jesus through Lent to Easter, then we are saying that we will also endure Holy Week with him. We might identify with the cheering on Palm Sunday but we also have to share in the rest of the week, those days of pain and abandonment.

However much we may have achieved in this life, we will have achieved very little in the final scheme of things. However important we may believe ourselves to be, when death takes us or when we retire from our position, life and work will go on just the same without us.

When we see an expert, we realise how poor our performance is. When we see our unworthiness in God’s eyes, pride will die and self-satisfaction will be no more.

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