In the first 24 years of my life I probably went to one funeral. Death was by no means on my radar as an adolescent. The closest thing I tasted of death was in my teenage years when my childhood dog, Topper, bit the dust. It was a sad day to see him go.
Death was a distant cousin to me. I knew he existed, but I knew nothing of him. In the past 8 months, I have been to 3 funerals, one being my own beloved grandfather. I by no means have felt the sufferings of some, but I now know the bitter taste of mortality.
When it comes to humility, there is no greater teacher than death himself. When you sense your mortality, you begin to see how little control you have. When you see how little control you have, you begin to understand how small you are. And when you understand how small you are, you begin to grasp humility.
My grandfather was the most humble man I have ever known. CS Lewis once said that when you meet a humble person, you probably won’t even know it. No disrespect to Clyde Staples, but it was not hard to see it with my Pawpaw. Following his funeral, I was told a story that personifies his humility more than anything else.
My great-grandfather, M.E. Williamson, was a Baptist preacher in South, Texas. I never got to meet him. But, the church had a good sized congregation and, being the preacher, he was called upon to perform numerous funerals. There was nothing different about the funerals than we do today. Visitation, service, then to the cemetery. But there was one thing that always bothered M.E. Following the service, everyone followed the hearse to the cemetery. Thats not what bothered him. What bothered him was that the more cars that followed the hearse, the more prestigious you were seen.
It was almost as if it was a competition to see who could get the your line of cars the longest. People used it as a measurement of popularity to puff up their pride to know that many would be following their hearse on the day of their demise. My great-grandfather hated the idea that people boasted in this and banned it from his funeral. The thought of people seeing this as accomplishment surely bothered him. No procession was to be had. My grandfather, his son, obviously saw this and took note.
Fast-forward a few decades to the funeral of my grandfather. As we were riding to the graveside, I asked my father why we didn’t follow the hearse like a traditional funeral. He proceeded to tell me the story I just told you.
I have no doubt that there would have been a long line following my grandfather to the graveside. But, that is not the point. The lesson my grandfather taught me is that even the things that are meant to celebrate you, like, I don’t know, your own dang funeral, can still be had in humility. If there is anytime to boast of your accomplishments it would be at your death. And if there was any man that could boast in his accomplishments it should have been my Pawpaw. Timothy Keller defines humility as not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Even through his death, my grandfather found a way to take himself out of the center.
And doesn’t that personify our Savior? His whole life was lived out of regard for others. From the moment he was born, to the moment he was nailed to the cross, he lived a life without an ego. How easily our egos are stroked. How easily it is to seek words that tickle our ears. How easy it is to use the size of our church, how many people we baptized, or how well spoken we are in the pulpit as cars in our procession line. Is this reason to boast?
How wicked are our hearts to transform a meaningless affirmation into pride of self. Christ had every reason to boast, the supreme Being of creation (Col 1:15–20), equality with God Himself (Phil 2:6). Despite that, he took on the form on a servant to come and ransom us from our sin ridden bodies. He put everything aside for the sake of his enemy. He gave up everything, for nothing in return from us. Oh, how we must model Jesus in his humility. Our ego is irrelevant. If Jesus had an ego, there wouldn’t have been a crucifixion, and we would still be in our sins.