It’s difficult for some of us to take compliments. In “the old days” we were taught to “be humble” which meant to be self-effacing, never taking credit when we did a good act, looked pretty or handsome or performed well in a recital. Parents were often afraid their children would get “a swelled head” and think themselves better than others. While the sentiment was noble, lots of damage was – and maybe still is – done to self esteem as these children grew into adulthood. Today we understand that it’s good to acknowledge the accomplishments of others; humility is really another word for truth. The caution is for us to realize that many of our accomplishments come from God-given talents as well as our own effort and that we walk through life with the help and guidance of others – which I guess means we still occasionally need that person who will keep us from getting a swelled head. Keeping our ego in check is a lifelong balancing act.
In this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 14:5-18), Paul and Barnabas are making their way from town to town, sometimes being persecuted for their preaching but sometimes just the opposite, as in Lystra, where they are able to heal a lame man who had never walked. As a result the people began to speak of them as gods and their temple priest brought oxen and garlands to offer in sacrifice to them. Their response was swift and strong. They tore their garments and said to the crowds, “Men, why are you doing this? We are of the same nature as you, human beings! We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from idols to the living God…In bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witnesses…” They understood agency (see previous post) and knew that they were instruments of God’s healing. They knew and exercised the gift that had been given to them but did not forget the source of the gift. No unbridled ego there, just faithful witnesses.
May it be so with us.