I wonder if you remember the character of Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, written by Charles Dickens. He epitomises the sort of insincere humility that could really annoy other people. Humility is a virtue to be cultivated by Christians. It was demonstrated by Jesus when he washed his disciples’ feet. The kind of humility expected is not at all like that of Uriah Heep but is sincere and is not secretly self-seeking as Uriah was.
To learn more read on. What follows is the reflection from the 2pm SLT service on Tuesday. The readings were Psalm 37:3-5, 30-32, Titus 2:1-8, 11-14, Luke 17:7-10.
When reading the gospel passage for today, my mind took me back to Sunday afternoons in my childhood and teens. Something that many families looked forward to each Sunday was the BBC’s dramatization of famous novels. It’s the Dickens ones which stick in my memory so I cannot be sure if there were other authors featured. I feel sure there must have been.
Watching week in and week out became a tradition as we followed the fortunes of Oliver Twist, visited the Old Curiosity Shop, and grew up with David Copperfield. It’s the latter which particularly sprang to mind today. I can still see the actor who played Uriah Heep wringing his hands and talking about being ‘umble’. For those of you who don’t know this character or have not read about him for some time, here is a taste of what he was like as David talks to him one evening:
“I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?” I said, after looking at him for some time.
“Me, Master Copperfield?” said Uriah. “Oh no! I’m a very umble person.”
It was no fancy of mine about his hands, I observed; for he frequently ground the palms against each other as if to squeeze them dry and warm, besides often wiping them, in a stealthy way, on his pocket-handkerchief.
“I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep, modestly; “let the other be where he may. My mother is likewise a very umble person. We live in a numble abode, Master Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father’s former calling was umble. He was a sexton.”
“What is he now?” I asked.
“He’s a partaker of glory at present, Master Copperfield,” said Uriah Heep. “But we have much to be thankful for. How much have I to be thankful for in living with Mr. Wickfield!”
“Perhaps you’ll be a partner in Mr. Wickfield’s business, one of these days,” I said, to make myself agreeable; “and it will be Wickfield and Heep, or Heep late Wickfield.”
“Oh no, Master Copperfield,” returned Uriah, shaking his head, “I am much too umble for that!”
Uriah Heep epitomizes obsequiousness. He oozes insincerity. All the time he was protesting at how very ‘umble’ he was, too ‘umble’ to even consider ever becoming a partner of his employer, the lawyer Mr Wickfield, Heep was studying law at night and blackmails Mr Wickfield in order to gain control over the business. He managed to get himself made a partner in the business and then began to work towards marrying Mr Wickfield’s daughter Agnes in order to gain control over the family fortune. Eventually he is found out and sentenced to be deported to Australia for his misdeeds.
Uriah Heep’s protestations of being so very ‘umble’ were insincere. Had he been truly humble there would have been no need to tell everyone. It would have been obvious. Really Uriah is full of ambition and greed. He longs to get even after the way he was treated as a child, believing he is owed a better life, and uses his every spare moment to further his ambition.
In the Gospel passage Jesus commends humility of a very different nature. We are to look on ourselves as servants of God who have done only what was expected of us. It is nothing to boast about and we are certainly not owed anything by God for our faith or our good works or for avoiding sin which is our duty. Obedience to God is our duty, we are not doing him any favours which leave him in our debt in any way. Jesus demonstrated true humility by washing his disciples’ feet and we are to emulate him.
Jesus explains what we are to be like and Paul gives details of a practical nature. In the present, we are to live godly lives. Those who are of an age or position in life where others may look up to them or emulate them must be sure that they are a good example to others. They must help younger believers to see how life is to be lived to honour God. By acting consistently with our beliefs, we earn the right to be listened to as we try to help others to live in the right way. We must be make sure that what we say is carefully considered rather than impulsive or unreasonable as that will only lead to arguments. Arguments are not going to help people to find the truth of the Gospel. We should make a point of listening to others with care and respect.
Currently we are looking to expand the Leadership Team of this ministry. Those who join the Team will need to heed Paul’s advice as Titus needed to. Being in a position of leadership brings with it responsibilities and some restriction of freedoms. We are looked on as representing an Anglican Church and must be careful what unspoken message we convey. We must try to make sure that nothing we do brings the Gospel into disrepute. Instead our lives must be attractive to others so that we illustrate the attractiveness of the Gospel.
The reason we can live this kind of life is the grace of God. We have power given to us by Jesus who died to rescue us from sin and from the way sin once controlled our lives. God instructs and trains us to live this new way. It may not be easy but as Paul points out, we are living with a blessed hope, the hope of Christ’s return. By setting our minds on this we are impelled to live lives of holiness.
In the past Jesus sacrificed himself to redeem us from our slavery to sin. We were unable to do that for ourselves, helpless to help ourselves in any way. Not only were we saved from sin, but we were brought into a life of purity. If we choose not to live godly lives we are effectively despising the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
Jesus has made us a special people, a prized, treasured possession; a people are who are ‘zealous for good deeds’. Living in a godly manner is part of the DNA of the people of God. Our motivation should come from the fact that we are so very special to Jesus. We can hardly claim that we are redeemed and then not show any evidence of being transformed by that redemption. It’s our behaviour that points to the truth of what Christ has done for us and in turn points others to our Lord.
Humility is what Jesus demonstrated and what he expects of us. Let’s not do humility Uriah Heep’s way, with wringing of hands and protestations of our ‘umble’ station in life. Let’s say as we are instructed and mean it from the heart:
“We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor