"Toward the scorners, [the Lord] is scornful,
but to the humble he shows favor.
The wise will inherit honor,
but fools get disgrace."
Like many similar statements, the first part is a familiar truth but the second is an amazing paradox. Common sense alone tells us that those who exalt themselves "are riding for a fall." We have had many opportunities to observe this, and perhaps we have learned this the expensive way. But when have we seen the humble exalted? That defies common sense.
Our Lord's saying is more than a general observation about ordinary affairs. It points us right back to the first Adam himself. The original head of the human race wanted to be "as God, knowing [that is, arbitrating] good and evil." Ironically, this man was already made in God's image and likeness. But that did not deter him from the most stupendous act of self-aggran-dizement conceivable. In a crazy fit of assertiveness, Adam triggered the fall and ruin of all mankind. We see that calamity re-enacted over and over.
But the Gospel comes to us in the second part of Christ's saying, "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." In those words, which the Gospel writers must have treasured and cherished, Jesus speaks of himself. As St Paul tells us, "he took upon him the form of a servant, .... he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him..." Here we see the most stupendous act of self-denial conceivable, which triggered the reverse of Adam's tragedy, the redemption of the world, a radical new beginning to human existence.
Jesus invites us to humble ourselves along with Him. When we acknowledge our own unworthiness and dependence on him, our own eternal exaltation begins. When we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof," then He truly speaks His word of pardon and forgiveness and our souls are healed for time and eternity.
Yes, the Gospel defies all common sense and runs counter to ordinary experience. But that is why we call it "Good News."