The movie theater was like a time portal leading back to the early 1990s. On the big screen was the Disney remake of the 1991 classic, "Beauty and the Beast."
Mom and I got tickets to Saturday's 8:30 p.m. showing. I know, I know … quite late for a preacher on a church night. But how could I resist the chance to see a new spin on my favorite animated classic?
There was a character in the movie named Gaston. He was the epitome of arrogance. Gaston assumed everyone admired him, and he commented regularly on his own handsome appearance and excessive strength.
He sang, "As a specimen, yes, I'm intimidating," and that was just the tip of his egomaniacal tendencies. He was mean to everyone who didn't agree with him, and he used people for his own benefit. I'll avoid sharing any more movie spoilers here, but let's just say Gaston's narcissism didn't serve him well in the end.
Arrogance is our theme for today's installment of the Lenten series. We're trekking with Jesus from arrogance toward humility. It's a topic Jesus tackled frequently; Jesus invited his followers to step away from an attitude of self-importance and instead to walk toward humility.
Please note: Jesus never said "Please don't be confident." Confidence is healthy and very different than arrogance. Confidence proclaims, "I'm created in the image of God. I'm lovable and created to spread peace, justice, and compassion." Arrogance, on the other hand, proclaims, "I am better and more deserving than you, so I can squish you."
Taking a step toward humility is as timely as ever. Throughout life there are pressures to come out on top and be a "winner," even it if means causing harm to people and the planet. Jesus said that exalting oneself over everyone and everything is a dead end. On two occasions in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Jesus' disciples struggled with arrogance, too. In Luke, chapter 9, they argued about which one of them was the greatest. There weren't feeling particularly humble at the time. Jesus intervened and invited a little child from the community to stand beside him. He said to his arguing disciples, "Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me … for it is the one who is the least among you all who is the greatest." Jesus flipped their expectations and reoriented their focus. True discipleship was about extending welcome to everyone, even the young children usually disregarded.
Gaston was an exaggerated character in "Beauty and the Beast." We sometimes imagine that arrogance always displays itself in such an over-the-top way, but that's not the case. Arrogance shows up in small, subversive ways all the time. When we believe our time is worth more than someone else's time, that's arrogance. When we assume we should have more access to water, food, money, insurance, or employment than someone else, that's arrogance. When we believe that our language, race, sexual orientation, country of origin or religious heritage is in some way superior to someone else, that's arrogance. Arrogance is pervasive and contagious; its remedy is humility.
Yet no matter how arrogant we are as human beings, God continues to love us. God perpetually invites us into new ways of being...ways that emphasize the importance of humility. Humility equips us to recognize the inherent value of all people and all creation. Humility empowers us to extend compassion to everyone. Humility has the power to reshape communities, countries, and the world. May we embrace it, uphold it and live it out.