Everyone seems to take advantage of the good guy and they say, “Let us beset the just one because he is obnoxious to us” (Wisdom 2:12). Why is the just one, the good guy, obnoxious to the evildoers? Simply because he does right, he treats people well, and fears and honors God.
Goodness is always obnoxious to the wicked because it quietly speaks against evil, simply because it is good. Because of this, the wicked one says of the good, “he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for our transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training” (Wisdom 2:12). The wicked recognize the evil that they do, they see that they do not live as they profess, that they are merely actors who pretend to be just; in the end they are proud and refuse to acknowledge their sin. Consequently the good guy is perceived by them as saying, “You hypocrite and liar,” although he says not a word; their consciences speak against them. Their hearts are restless and they are not at peace and they lash out at the one who seems to be at peace. The very goodness of his life speaks against the lives of the wicked and it condemns wickedness. Wickedness cannot tolerate the good.
Jesus Christ came among us as the good guy par excellence; he came not as the proud man but as the humble and because he came as the Good itself he was rejected for speaking against the hypocrites of his day, and he continues to do so today. Because of his goodness and humility he knew that the “Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise” (Mark 9:31).
It sometimes happens that we find ourselves in a similar situation. We do all that we can to treat others well, to show them kindness and love and all of our efforts of good will are rejected. Our first instinct is to run away and return their wickedness but we ought rather to rejoice when this happens to us for it gives us an opportunity to share in the suffering and the rejection of Christ. It gives us the opportunity to become a little child, to become “the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Here we abandon pride and take on humility. We die with Christ and we rise with him.
At other times we find ourselves in the opposite situation. Someone is so pleasant toward us we imagine that they are trying, as it were, to kill us with kindness. We say with the wicked, “Let us beset the just one because he is obnoxious to us.” He cannot possibly be this good, this kind, this loving. It must be an act, we presume, and we begin to look for any instance of hypocrisy for which we might denounce him and prove him wrong. We abandon humility and become proud, becoming hypocrites ourselves.
At all times Christ Jesus comes among us and invites us to share in his Cross, to give of ourselves so fully to God and to others that our goodness overflows and gently speaks to the wicked. Never should we run from this mission for love alone will save us, love alone will transform the world. This is what he means when he says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” At the heart of discipleship, at the heart of the following of Christ, lies humility.
At the same time, though, the love of Jesus Christ comes among us sinners in the life of the just one who quietly reminds us of our sins and calls us to repentance. Here again our temptation is not to change our own life, but rather to lunge out against those who are just, searching for their own sins with which to attack them in the attempt to ignore our own sin.
Saint James calls us not to focus on each other’s sins but on our own because as he says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (James 3:16). It is our jealousy and ambition – our pride – that leads us to focus on other’s sins. We seek to say that we are better followers of Christ than somebody else, but in reality whenever we think such things we have abandoned Christ; we no longer follow him, we follow ourselves. When we turn from Christ and turn toward ourselves Jesus invites us, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
When we turn from Jesus, James asks us the rhetorical question:
“Where do the wars and conflicts among come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).James knows that the wars and conflicts among us come from our pride, from our refusal to be humble and lower ourselves as Jesus himself did, to love and serve God and our neighbor.
To be humble is really to recognize who we are before God, fully aware of our sinfulness and our faithfulness. To be humble before the Lord is to be aware of our need for his love, for his mercy and forgiveness. It is to be like a young child fully dependent on his or her parents.
If you wish to be the greatest you must first become the least. As followers of Christ we cannot love places of honor, we cannot live in pride. Rather, we must live in humility. If we wish to be great we must become like trees. Said Saint Augustine:
“Observe a tree, how it first tends downwards, that it may then shoot forth upwards. It fastens its root low in the ground, that it may send forth its top towards heaven. Is it not from humility that it endeavors to rise? But without humility it will not attain to higher things. You are wanting to grow up into the air without a root. Such is not growth, but a collapse” (Sermon on the Gospel of John, 38).We must put down our roots into the firm foundation of Christ and his humility. If we, like Christ, humble ourselves and live in love as the servants of all – not as the judges – we will grow tall in the kingdom of heaven.
The Psalmist encourages us in this endeavor to grow in humility, saying to us: “Behold, God is my helper; the LORD sustains my life” (Psalm 54:6). To this way of life the Lord has called us and he will give us the grace – if we ask sincerely and in humility – to follow faithfully after his Son and so lead others to salvation.